Death: The Last Enemy
Why the Grim Reaper won't win.
by Sam O'Neal
"The last enemy to be conquered is death." If you recognize that sentence, it might be because you've read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In the book, Harry and Hermione find the quote inscribed on the tombstone of Harry's parents, Lily and James.
But J. K. Rowling is not the original author of that phrase. It's from 1 Corinthians 15:26. Authors and filmmakers often use the Bible as a main ingredient when they cook up stories. And as in this case, one of the most common areas where they use biblical ideas is in matters of life and death.
What do I mean? Here are four biblical principles about death that frequently show up in popular movies and books.
#1 Death is scary
Psalm 55 is a poem written by a man named David during a very tough period of his life. Even though he loved God, here's what he writes in verses 4-5: "My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling has beset me. Horror has overwhelmed me" (NIV).
We see this fear of death continue in movies and books today. An interesting thing, though, is to look at the different ways in which heroes and villains handle their fears of death.
Villains react with selfishness and greed. They try to escape death at the expense of others. For instance, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince we learn Voldemort "did all he could to find out how to make himself immortal." That meant committing murder and tearing apart his own soul just to avoid death.
Heroes might also fear death, but they often overcome that fear by loving other people more than they love themselves. It's the kind of love that caused Jesus to say, just hours before he died on the cross: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, NIV).
#2 Death is inevitable
In Stranger Than Fiction, Will Farrell plays a nerdy IRS agent who begins hearing a voice in his head. "The voice isn't telling me to do anything," Harold says. "It's telling me what I've already done—accurately and with a better vocabulary." It turns out what Harold hears is narration. He's the main character in a famous author's newest novel.
This is only mildly annoying for Harold until one day when he changes the time on his watch. The voice says: "Little did he know that this seemingly simple act would result in his imminent death." Harold spends the rest of the movie trying to change the ending to his story.
The Bible makes it clear that all of us—you, me and Harold—will die one day. In Psalm 89:48, a poet named Ethan asks, "What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave?" (NIV). Solomon says it this way in Ecclesiastes: "Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart" (7:2, NIV).
These verses are echoed in the advice given to Harold by a friend: "Harold, you will die—some day, some time. Heart failure at the bank; choke on a mint; some long, drawn-out disease you contracted on vacation. You will die. You will absolutely die. Even if you avoid this death, another will find you."
#3 Death is not the end
Each of our stories has an ending. But it's not death. In fact, our lives on Earth are just a fraction of what we'll experience—just the first sentence of our first scene.
There's a great moment in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King where Gandalf and Pippin are about to be overrun by an army of orcs and other nasty creatures. Pippin says, "I didn't think it would end this way." But Gandalf shrugs. "End?" he says. "No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path—one that we all must take." Another wise, bearded old wizard named Dumbledore put it this way: "To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."
Death isn't the end. The path continues. Yet, the Bible makes it clear we won't all walk the same path. Hebrews 9:27 says "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (NIV). In Matthew 25, Jesus declares the wicked "will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (NIV).
So how do we make sure our next adventure is on the right path?
#4 Death has been conquered
The key to your continuing adventure, according to the Bible, is Jesus' sacrifice for our sins and victory over death. Luke put it this way in Acts 2:24: "God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (NIV).
This is wonderfully shown in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Like Christ, the mighty lion Aslan dies willingly—on a stone table at the hands of the White Witch. When Susan and Lucy later find him alive and well, Aslan explains that "when a willing victim who has committed no treachery is killed in a traitor's stead, the stone table will crack—and even death itself will turn backwards."
Like Aslan, Christ was a willing victim killed in the place of others to destroy the power of death. That's something God promised way back in the Old Testament (Hosea 13:14, NIV): "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
Death's sting is gone because the last enemy, death, has been conquered by Jesus. The best part is that we, too, can conquer death if we put our trust and hope in Christ.