On this Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for many things, but one of the things I appreciate most might surprise you. It’s death. Yes, I’m thankful for death. Most people don’t want to die. Even those of us who believe in heaven aren’t wanting to go there anytime soon. The Bible explains death as a consequence of sin. God told Adam and Eve, “The day you eat of the fruit, you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). They ate. But they didn’t die. At least not right away. So I don’t think death was just a punishment for sin as much as it was God’s greatest act of mercy.
Just imagine what this life would be like if it never came to an end. For starters, there would be nothing to look forward to and no sense of urgency; nothing motivating us to get things done “while there’s still time.” Our bodies would grow old and chronic illness would set in. Pain would constantly gnaw at us like a hungry dog gnaws a bone. There would be no release. No end to our misery. No final rest for the weary. The blind would continue to stumble through life, bumping into unseen obstacles. The lame would go on dragging heavy limbs. The deaf would never hear birds sing or a baby coo. There would be no ultimate healing. No crossing the river. No reunion with loved ones. There would be no reckoning. No final judgment. No settling of accounts. All of the old injustices would remain. Wrongs would never be made right. Hurts would never be healed. Even in those cases where lives are cut tragically short, we can only guess what trials and tribulations the victims were spared by an untimely death.
Eleven days ago my mother-in-law Amy Phillips died after losing a long and sometimes painful battle with breast cancer. I’m glad she was finally able to die, even though she will be deeply missed by her family and friends who now mourn her loss. At the end of her life Amy longed “to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). It wasn’t a death wish, but an expression of hope in Christ and his promises. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Like my mother-in-law, I believe that promise with all my heart. But even if I didn’t believe in an afterlife or didn’t know what lies beyond death’s door, I’d still be thankful for death. Compared with the alternative, it’s a blessing.