The reality of death
What do we hold on to as Christians when facing death? Human words fall short. Poets and philosophers may come up with flowery words and scholarly statements. But when there is no connection with faith in God, such words ring hollow. Only the Word of God himself gives true and lasting comfort. What comfort does the Word of God offer at such times?
A comforting truth
Psalm 139 is one of the songs of David in the Old Testament. In verse 16b, he writes, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." It is God who determines whether our lives on earth will be long or short. This truth is not set forth to make us fatalistic. It is not meant to teach us to resign grimly to the realities of life and death. Instead, it is meant to comfort us. Nothing happens by chance. Our lives are in God's hand. When we reflect on God's care as shown from the very beginning of our existence, it will be easier to trust in his Fatherly hand in the course of our lives.
God at work
David speaks poetically of God's knowledge and personal involvement in his life. "You created my inmost being." He then highlights God's creative activity by the words "you knit me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13). When human life begins in the womb, it first lacks a clearly defined shape. The body is not yet formed. Nevertheless, the baby has an identity. God's work is in progress. He has a hand in our lives from our conception onwards. Consider God's care for us from our earliest beginnings. Keeping this in mind helps us not to recklessly conclude that he does not care for us now. God, who has put so much thought and effort into forming us in the wombs of our mothers, continues to be involved in our lives. The question is whether or not we are willing to acknowledge this.
God with us
David confessed the reality of God's comforting presence. We do the same with an even clearer perspective. God has revealed himself as Immanuel, "God with us" through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Centuries after David wrote Psalm 139, God was at work in the womb of the virgin Mary. He shaped a body for his only begotten Son. The coming of the Son of God into the world was truly a "wonder," a miracle beyond comprehension. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to be the Saviour of sinners. He came to lead people like you and me into fellowship with God. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we learn to know the love of God. That is how we also learn to trust that God is with us at the beginning of our lives and throughout our lives. We therefore also trust that through Jesus Christ he is with all who put their trust in him. Jesus Christ himself assured his disciples: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” ( Matthew 28:20 ).
David not only confesses that God's hand is there in his life. He deliberately opens up himself to God's continuing involvement in his very thought processes. Look at verses 23-24 . "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me..." That is a prayer for divine intervention and correction. It is a prayer for a repentant heart. It is a prayer born of the knowledge that God is a gracious God who responds positively to the prayers of repentant sinners. A prayer to God to search us and know us is a prayer for the ongoing work of his Spirit in us. Keep this in mind when you take those words of Psalm 139 on your lips. Do it with the awareness that you are asking God to work very directly in your life. Guided by the Word of God, we learn to live in fellowship with God. As we then approach the God-ordained end of our lives, we may continue to entrust ourselves to his guiding hand, confident that his way is the way of everlasting life ( Psalm 139:24 ).
Dr. Andrew J. Pol