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Death is nothing at all! Er… What????


Death is Nothing at All!  Er….  WHAT?????

(Or why I don’t read poems at funerals!)

I was standing in the foyer of our local Crematorium, and listening to the service that was taking place in the chapel. The minister who was conducting the service had finished his words of committal, and had just started doing something I would be extremely reluctant to do at a funeral. He began to read a poem…

Do not stand at my grave and weep 
I am not there. I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow. 
I am the diamond glints on snow. 
I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 
I am the gentle autumn rain. 
When you awaken in the morning’s hush 
I am the swift uplifting rush 
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry; 
I am not there. I did not die.

I was somewhat surprised, to say the least. Up until that point he had sounded reasonably evangelical, but when he read this poem he had abandoned any biblical faithfulness to indulge in modern popular sentimentality and superstition, (probably at the family’s behest) and worse, to deny the reality of the most traumatic, final, non-reversible event that ever occurs to individuals, – death.

There is another poem that features heavily at these events. Written by Canon Henry Scott-Holland, it begins, ‘Death is nothing at all…’ Holland was a Church of England clergyman around the beginning of the twentieth century, who saw the church’s role as a social reform movement, to relieve the plight of the impoverished working classes of his day. He formed a group called PESEK (Politics, Economics, Socialism, Ethics and Christianity) to investigate social and economic depravity, and along with others in his group came to the conclusion that capitalism was at the root of poverty, and socialism was the answer. Holland’s solution was state regulation of industry and commerce. He believed that only the state had enough power to “evoke, to direct, to supervise, to empower, and to regulate the actions” of capital and workers, and he considered that the role of the Anglican Church was to convince society that “duty to God and duty to man are the same thing.” Holland was a liberal clergyman, with a tendency toward liberation style theology, and little appreciation for the doctrines of saving grace. It was in the context if the death of King Edward VII, in 1910 that he preached a sermon on death in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, apparently exploring the various societal attitudes to death, many seemingly contradictory, for example, the fear of the unknown and the belief in the continuity of life after death. It was in that sermon that he introduces his poem… ‘death is nothing at all…’ Like so many liberals, in every age, concerned only with the improvement of this earthly life, Holland would have us live for today, with no thought of eternity, and would seek to convince us that death is not real, that it is irrelevant, that it is not to weigh to heavily upon us, for ‘death is nothing at all,’ or even worse the blatant lie that says ‘I am not dead, I did not die’ – when the earthly remains of the person being spoken of are lying lifeless in a coffin, awaiting burial and decay and putrefaction.

So to say that death is nothing at all, or to deny death’s reality is to defy the clear teaching of the Bible and to do a serious injustice to those who listen to such poems. Let’s look at just some of the Biblical references to death:-

  1. Death is a universal reality. Like it or not, unless the Lord returns first, – every one of us will die. 2 Samuel 14:14: We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast. Job 30:23: For I know that you will bring me to death and to the house appointed for all living. Psalms 49:10: For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. Psalms 89:48 What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Ecclesiastes 3:19: For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. Ecclesiastes 8:8: No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death.
  2. Death is the result of SIN. Romans 5:12: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
  3. Death is FINAL. After death, the probation of man ends, – and there is no further opportunity for repentance. Hebrews 9:27: And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment… Death is the precursor to judgement.
  4. Death must be PREPARED FOR. 2 Kings 20:1: In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Ecclesiastes 9:10: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 11:8: So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. Matthew 24:44: Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Luke 12:35: “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, John 9:4: We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.
  5. Death has been defeated by Christ. 2 Timothy 1:10: and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 1 John 1:2: the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— So if we simply deny death’s existence, how will we ever fully grasp the victory of Christ, or fully appreciate His death-defeating work for us?
  6. Death is a blessing to the saints of God. Psalms 116:15: Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. The ‘funeral poem’ problem is even more pronounced when it rears its head at the funeral of a Christian. Why read a poem that gives a humanistic view of death, thereby deflecting the mourners from the glorious hope of resurrection and eternal life that the deceased has through God’s grace, in implanting faith to believe in that believer’s heart?
    1. Death has a STING. This is the heart of the matter, – the reason why mourners want to read poems that downplay the significance of death – because death really hurts.
    2. Death hurts us physically. Death really has a sting.  It is often physically painful.
    3. Death hurts us financially and emotionally. Great hurt comes from the separation, the sense of hopelessness, the knowledge that no matter how masterfully we may have arranged our earthly destiny, our career, our home-life, our time management – there is one thing that is totally out of our control. When our time comes, we will die.
    4. Death hurts us ETERNALLY! And that sting continues into eternity, for the pain of this life is eclipsed by the terrors of a lost eternity. Yet the ‘antidote’ to that sting has been provided! It is to believe in Christ, who took the sting of death for us!

The sting, ultimately comes from SIN. That’s why Christ’s death on the cross, taking away our sin, has taken away that sting also. 1 Corinthians 15:54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is the pastor’s task to tell his listeners the truth about life and death, it is not his job to lull them into a false sense of security, or to confirm their superstitions and false beliefs. Death is a serious matter. Let us not avoid talking or thinking about it, or trivialising it, or pretending that it is nothing at all. Let us look it in the face, examine our own hearts, confess our sins to Almighty God and repent, trusting that God will forgive us, because of Jesus, and so prepare for the inevitable.

From → Editorial

  1. micheal permalink

    that first poem was read at my friends funeral liberal preachers want to lessen things wishfully and control this temperal world to no effect mis leading their congregations many liberal churches are becoming community centers under the guise of saving the faithful and bringing in numbers of church goers their numbers are declining

  2. Great message brother, and one that all need to hear.

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