Though we fear it, we must all face it. Though we hate it, we must all meet it. Though we dread it, we cannot avoid it. It is, of course, death. In this broken and battered world, death always looms over life, death always stands hauntingly in the distance.
Death is the subject of a new book by Guy Prentiss Waters. Facing the Last Enemy is meant to acquaint Christians with death so they might think about it rightly and face it courageously. “We all have questions about death,” he says. “’What is death? Why do we die? Why do we all die? Why is death so scary? Why did Christ die? Why do Christians have to die? How can I face the death of someone I love? How can I prepare for death? How can I help others prepare for death? What happens after death?’” To gain compelling, truthful, and reliable answers to such questions we must turn to the Bible, to God’s revelation of himself, for here we will learn how death entered the world, why we must all face it, and how it will itself someday die.
The book is divided into three roughly equal sections. In the first section Waters defines death. He explains what it is, where it came from, and what happens when we die (whether we are Christians or non-Christians). He explains why Christ had to die and why Christians still need to die, even though Christ died on our behalf. This is, essentially, a brief theology of death and one that provides a solid foundation for what follows. He is careful not to make death more intimidating than it needs to be for the Christian, but also not to romanticize it, saying “while death is not good in itself, for those who are in Christ, death will be for our good. For His people, Christ brings an end not to the experience of death but to the fear of death. … As we approach death, we need to see it through the spectacles of the finished work of Christ. The gospel tells us that Christ has conquered and subdued death. That is the only way that we can face death with hope or confidence.”
In the second section he writes about encountering death. He provides counsel on facing the deaths of other people, on helping those who are dying or grieving, and on preparing ourselves for the inevitable end of our lives. Here it is clear that he writes as both a theologian and a pastor, as someone who knows doctrinal truths but who has also had to apply them in the most tragic and heartbreaking of circumstances. He gets quite practical here, going so far as to encourage Christians to show love to others by considering their estate planning and even planning their own death and burial. But primarily, of course, he encourages Christians to prepare themselves spiritually to meet their Maker.
The final section looks beyond death to the resurrection, the final judgment, and heaven and hell. He shows how each of these truths ought to compel us to live worthy lives on this side of the grave. For example, “Our bodies are precious because Christ bought them with His own blood. We will inhabit our bodies forever, and they have a glorious destiny. Our bodies are prized in God’s sight. We should not neglect our bodies but care for them. We should not allow our bodies to participate in sin but should ‘present [ourselves] to God as those who have been brought from death to life’ (Rom. 6:13a). How does the way that you treat and use your body reflect the truth of the resurrection?”
Death is inevitable in this world. It is inevitable that we will need to endure the deaths of people we love and inevitable that we ourselves will die. For that reason alone we ought to familiarize ourselves with death—to know what it is, why it exists, how we can face it well, and how we can have great hope beyond it. This book is an excellent resource that will help accomplish all of that. It is rich in its teaching, compassionate in its tone, and saturated with Scripture. I highly recommend it (and the optional video teaching series that accompanies it).