‘Tis the season of spiders and witches, graves and ghosts. Tonight, kids across the country head door to door for free candy, and others will head to harvest parties or press Play on the scary movies. With all the skeletons, zombies, and gravestones decorating the country, death—or the presence of the dead—isn’t far from mind.
Halloween can be traced back to ancient Celts, who believed that the barrier between the physical and spirit worlds grew thin on this night, letting the dead return to the earth. Similarly, the Druids believed that evil spirits roamed the world at this time of year. According to tradition, people carved faces in turnips and dressed up as evil spirits themselves to scare them off—or blend in. That’s quite a bit different than the costume celebration it’s become today!
Halloween isn’t the only party on the block this week, either. In Mexico and some of the surrounding countries, Day of the Dead has begun and will continue through November 2. Those celebrating this holiday aren’t trying to scare away spirits, though—they’re building altar-like ofrendas to honor the memories of their deceased relatives, and some people still believe old traditions that say their loved ones will come back to visit them over the holiday.
Day of the Dead traditions vary by town and have spread into the United States and other neighboring nations. Many people are celebrating death as just another stage of life; others are throwing parties to laugh in death’s face. In most cases, you’ll find special foods, sugar skulls, and images of Catalina, an exquisitely-dressed skeleton who reminds people that no matter what wealth you collect here on earth, you can’t take any of it with you when you die.
Every culture has its own way of dealing with the concept of death, with reactions ranging from fear to denial to acceptance and celebration. It comes out in the way we celebrate the changing of the seasons, and it comes out in the way we live our lives. Do you as a Christian know how to respond to death? The topic is a big one, but don’t be discouraged! The Bible has a lot to say about death and life, and for the believer, that message is encouraging.
Here are eight truths to start you off:
1: Physical death is inevitable
O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! – Psalm 39:4
Let’s start out with a blunt reality: with only a couple of exceptions in the Old Testament, every human being who has ever lived has had to face death. Unless Jesus returns in our lifetimes, one day we will also come to the end of our time on this earth. Instead of trying to evade it, we should make the most of the time we do have.
2: After death, there will be rewards and consequences
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live . . . Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. –John 5:26, 28–29
Contrary to some people’s beliefs, the human experience doesn’t end the moment we die. For those who follow God, this is a good thing! We will hear Jesus’ voice and be rewarded with life. His voice is something much more serious for those who are not his, though—after death, they will face judgment for the wrong they have done.
3: Death itself is a consequence
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 6:23
Death entered the world as a result of sin, and it remains as sin’s consequence. In and of itself, it’s not a good thing. It’s a reminder that we are broken people living in a cursed world. Thankfully, God loves us enough to not leave us alone in our sin and death—He freely offers us life through Jesus.
4: Death is an enemy that will be destroyed
The last enemy to be destroyed is death. –1 Corinthians 15:26
Death may be inevitable, but it’s not all-powerful. When Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion, he proved his authority and victory over death. One day, death itself will be destroyed. Because of that, we do not need to fear it.
5: When death is defeated, so are those who rejected life
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done . . . Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. –Revelation 20:12, 14–15
This should be a sobering truth. God’s gift of eternal life is free, but we need to accept it. Those who choose to reject it are rejecting God, instead embracing death’s fate. Is your name in the book of life? Because Jesus bore God’s wrath in our place, we have salvation freely offered to us. Thank God for claiming us as his own.
6: Jesus promises life even if we die
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” –John 11:25–26
Jesus’ friend Martha was devastated when her brother Lazarus died. Even in her grief, though, she knew who Jesus was. She believed that if Jesus had been there, her brother would not have died, and she acknowledged that Jesus had the power to ask God for anything (John 11:21–22). Jesus reminded her that there is eternal life in him even after death—and he proceeded to raise Lazarus from the dead as a witness to God’s glory. We may not get a second chance at this life, but in Jesus, we will one day live and never die.
7: In Christ, we have already passed from death into life
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. –1 John 3:14
We don’t have to wait until after we die to experience the life that Jesus gives. The Bible tells us multiple times that those who believe in Jesus have already been given new life. The greatest sign of life in us is love—if we are living in Christ, we will show his love to others more and more.
8: When we leave our bodies, we will be with the Lord
He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. –2 Corinthians 5:5–8
Though death is a consequence of sin, the death of our physical bodies brings something beautiful: the realization of our reconciliation with God. The Bible tells us that God is preparing us to one day set aside our mortal bodies and be welcomed into his presence. He wants us to be encouraged—our transition away from this temporary life is something to desire, not something to fear. When we leave our bodies behind, it is to be at home with our Savior.
Fear God, not death
God is the only one who can bring the dead back to life. In Luke 16:19–31, Jesus tells the parable of a rich man who dies and goes to Hades. He begs to be sent back to earth to warn his brothers, but his request is denied. If his brothers, like him, cannot be convinced by the words of the prophets, they won’t believe the word of a dead man either. The rich man is stuck on the other side.
As you celebrate the end of a season this week, keep God’s truths in mind. The dead will not be coming back to harass the living tonight, as those early traditions went. Neither can we deliberately call them back to spend time with them over the next couple of days. Let what you believe about death be evident in the way you live your life, and remember that you do not need to fear it. It is God who judges those who have rejected life, and it is that same God who freely saves us from death when we accept his gift of life. Nothing else—death or otherwise—can dictate our destiny.
About the author
Elizabeth Buege graduated from the University of Northwestern—St. Paul with a B.A. in English Writing. She works as a freelance book editor, offering writing and editing tips alongside her services at www.elizabethbuege.com. She also teaches weekly writing classes as the secondary writing tutor for the ESCHEL homeschool co-op in Oakdale, MN.
When Elizabeth isn’t working, you can probably find her reading or writing for fun. She also loves gardening, cooking, exploring parks, and hanging out with big dogs and small children. She attends First Free in Maplewood and is thankful to have found such strong fellowship so close to home.