There has been a lot of discussion in my circle lately about death. I guess that is not surprising. There has been a lot of infirmities and deaths of relatives and friends that has lead to this discussion.
It is common among both Christians and unbelievers to talk about God during a loved one's passing. We have questions; we would love to have answers.
The common question is "Why?"
The common answer is "God knows."
Well yes, He does. But when it comes to death and probably even infirmity. There really is a deeper answer. And well there should be. For this discussion, because of length, I won't address infirmity here, but rather only discuss the topic of God and death.
Suffice it to say, in regard to infirmity, from 2 Corinthians, we do know Paul asked God three times to remove the thorn in his side. For whatever reason, Paul tells us God refused. Sometimes God has reason for illness: to glorify Him; to motivate to action; to create the very best us. Sometimes it is simply the results of living in a fallen world and experiencing all the thorns and briers that come with that fact.
But back to that which is at the forefront of my recent family/friend discussions. It is common thought among Christians and really everyone, to believe that no one dies outside of God's will. That is, no one will die unless God calls that person home. I don't like to upset the apple cart, but to be quite honest, I don't believe that; and though rare, there are other Christians who agree with me. Let's look at Scripture to determine what is accurate.
I think we can consider several examples of someone dying before one actually should. One of the most obvious examples in dying before ones' time, would be in the taking of ones' own life. Do we really believe God is in suicide? And what about violent acts? Do we believe it was God's will for that woman to die at the hands of her abusive ex-husband? Do we believe that little 6 year old girl died in the basement of her home, because God ordained it, appointed it, or orchestrated it. I hardly think so. We need an answer for that. And quite simply the answer is, we live in a fallen world in which God allows a system and set of rules to work that he doesn't always penetrate, outside of a miracle. The fact is, God did not create chaos, he created order. He created the universe to work in such a way that there are things that absolutely will not change. Gravitational pull, electrical forces, laws of motion, planetary motion, etc.
The Bible tells us, "And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" ~Colossians 1:17
That is first and foremost all part of God's plan and design. God is not going to change what He has put in order. Do NOT jump off a bridge or building to concrete below. You will most likely die - outside of a flat-out miracle.
Our own choices can effect when, where, and how we die. If we are not wise in the choices we make concerning our health, we can shorten our days. If we insist on putting ourselves in dangerous situations, God's plan can be altered. Yes, He knows it all. But His knowing does not make what you decide to do, His will. It is often outside of His perfect will.
Clearly, God is sovereign. I don't think that will ever be disputed among Christians. But the biggest part of God's sovereignty, is His giving and establishing man's free will. God didn't want puppets. He didn't want to force us to obey Him, or love Him, agree with Him, or trust Him. Oh, he wants us to do that for sure. But He wants it of our own accord. Not because He coerced us. What gain is there in that? What purpose? Robots and puppets were never God's intent.
The Bible says God knows the hour of our death; there is no dispute there. But we are not to know the means, the day or the hour of our death.
7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. ~Acts 1:7
And the popular Scripture, Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
There is a time to die and God knows how we will succumb to death, but that doesn't mean death can't happen outside of His will. Neither does this Scripture mean that our death cannot be hastened.
And yes, Scripture even tells us our days are determined beforehand.
5 Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass; ~Job 14:5
We cannot pass the days numbered for us. But this doesn't say they cannot end early by our own poor choices. The Bible must be read and considered in its entirety and all verses analyzed in context.
So the question isn't does God have a number of days set aside for us. Yes. He does. Does God know the exact day and hour? Absolutely! I cannot believe the number of articles that are written on this question alone. Of course He does. That is not the question either.
But the question is, can man disrupt that, or change the hour. Does man have the capability or power to change his own hour of our death. Yes, I believe man can. And that is due to the greatest part of God's sovereignty which gives us our own free will.
When read in context, these verses do not dispute the fact that one can die outside of God's will. Let's look at the oft quoted Scripture, it is appointed for man to die once. This is the verse most often used to say that we only die in God's will. Yes! It is appointed for man to die! Once! But really when we read that in context, that doesn't mean the hour was planned. It only shows God knew.
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. ~Hebrews 9:27-28
This Scripture is clearly talking about death that occurs for EVERY human being, and that for every man befalls judgment! This Scripture is talking about the great sacrifice of a living, loving God. It really isn't talking about God setting an exact day, an exact hour, and an exact moment. Obviously, He knows that moment, in His omnipotent, omniscient Being. But I do believe this Scripture is taken out of context in regard to the word appointed. Death is "appointed" by God's design, but man's has chosen to live in a fallen world over the perfect world that He designed. Death and suffering came with the fall of Adam and Eve. And that is not to say that anyone else's choice would not have been different than Adam and Eve's. We were not created perfect beings - we were created with choice. And with that choice death came into the world.
There was only once and ever, one Perfect Man And that Man was God incarnate. And that Man came expressly to die for the sins of the world. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Jesus came to change that appointment. That is to what this verse is referring.
Now some like to point to the death of Jesus when He said before the Feast of the Tabernacles, "My time has not yet come." They like to say that this appoints to a specified hour for ones death. But that was GOD!
"My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.” ~John 7:6 and John 7:30 - "So they tried to seize Him, but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come."
I find it arrogant for us to compare our time here with His. He truly had a time set for His death. But the truth is, He still could have changed that time. In his human form, He could have refused to go to the cross. The importance in His death on the cross is that He went willingly! We must understand that, in order to find the beauty in it and to totally grasp the reason for it.
Difficult concept, yes! To imagine that Someone would chose willingly to die for me! The Bible is clear; we do not always know or understand God's ways.
- Job 11:7 “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?”
- Job 36:26a “Behold, God is great, and we know him not.”
- Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
It is certainly obvious, that death is part of God's plan. And there are definitely times a loved one's death is God's will. We accept that and respect that. In fact we honor that. But there is certainly no need to give Him blame when blame is not due. When someone, especially an unbeliever, asks why their loved one had to die in a cruel and unusual way - the "Why" question - we had better be prepared with an answer. We need to be able to explain the fallen world, the failure and cruelty that sin brings, but that there is an answer for that. And that is the salvation we have through the death of God's Son on the cross. There is clarification in that, and therein lies the only Hope we have when we or a loved one experiences the sorrow that death brings.
When we know Jesus, we know then that our days are in His hand. "My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.” ~Psalm 31:15.
We have a safety net when we stay in obedience to His Word. We can live out the fulfillment of our days. Those are the days God had planned for us before we were formed in our mother's womb. Psalm 139
Yes, God is in control. God is sovereign. But we have freedom in that sovereignty.
13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. ~James 4:13-15
Yes. If the Lord wills, we live or die. But first and foremost, we live in our own free will. God has a perfect will and one that He allows. Our life simply has to be that way. We live within His sovereignty. But first and foremost we have choices. Humans left to their own devices, don't always make the right one. That's why God gave us Jesus. That is why we need Him.