In the movie, Back to the Future II, the bully extraordinaire, Biff, received a gift from his time-traveling future self. This Future Biff gave Past Biff a sports almanac that spanned 50 years. This future sports almanac would eventually help Past Biff place huge wagers on every sports game for the next several years and amass a huge fortune. All because he knew the future.
He had cheated. He had all the information. He had the power of knowledge. All he had to do, was wager on the events because he knew the outcomes beforehand.
Wouldn’t that be nice? How would it be to know the outcome of future events?
In some ways it would spoil the fun of competition. But, what if the outcomes we knew were more meaningful than trivial sporting contests? What if we knew the results of the bigger world events? What if we already knew of the triggering events, or the outcomes of wars, or when an earthquake would hit, or a volcanic eruption, or other cataclysmic events? What if we knew the outcomes of our own difficult life decisions, or challenges? What if we knew the outcome of every scenario including the battle of life and death?
In a way, we do.
And, we don’t need a crazy future uncle Biff or his space-time-continuum-altering almanac. We can know the outcome of Good vs Evil, and Life vs. Death.
This week I was listening to a book by Tad Callister called The Infinite Atonement. It is excellent by the way. As I was listening, I was impressed by a poem that he quotes while describing Christ’s victory over death as a portion of his Atonement. It was written in the 1600’s by an English poet named John Donne.
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better then thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
I loved the last phrase, “Death, thou shalt die.” I have never really thought of death in this way. Who would have imagined the irony that death was alive? Who would have imagined that death could die? I had thought of death more as an event. I imagined it as something that we all will experience, something necessary, something that is inevitable, with no inherent goodness or badness.
The way it is phrased in this poem, however, explores Death almost as if it were a person, or an idea, or something that is actively trying to claim us. It is portrayed as if it is waging a battle against what would then be its alter ego, its competitor, it’s more wholesome nemesis…Life.
These days, we seem to love stories of superheroes. Maybe we could look at this proverbial battle between Life and Death as the next best superhero story. “Death” would be like Lex Luthor, the Joker, Thanos, or the big Green Goblin Guy that steals all the super tech from Ironman, etc. “Life” would then be the Superhero that goes largely unnoticed, fights for the little guy, and restores peace and prosperity. Through a series of drastic events, Life would engage in an epic battle with Death, and eventually overcome and heroically bring the world back to normalcy. Life would be the conquering superhero that saves the world from utter chaos, pain and despair.
What if we took that superhero storyline and rephrased it just a little? We could even say that Life would be the hero that saves us from the “pains of Death“. Wow, where have I heard that before? Maybe if we added to the storyline one more time, the Superhero we are calling “Life” could have an introductory line, “I am the way, the truth, the life…” (John 14:6)
I guess that in a way, we are living in a world that has a real Superhero. We are all participants in the battle of Good and Evil, and of Life and Death. We also know how it will end.
Like Biff, we have a place where we can read about the battle and the eventual winner. Lets read a few words from the Divine Almanac of Human Events both past and future…the scriptures. This is our cheat sheet where we have access to inside information, and can read about the outcome of this continual war between the two titans- Life and Death.
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
(1 Corinthians 15:22-26)
How have I missed this for so long? Just as the idea in Donne’s poem infers, Death is an enemy, it will be destroyed. It dies. Life will win.
Hosea also leaves little doubt as to the outcome of this epic battle…
“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction…” (Hosea 13:14)
We already know the outcome of the battle and the war. So what does it mean for us? What good does this information bring? Just as it benefitted Biff, we can use this knowledge to benefit us. Because of this, we can have complete and total confidence and faith that we all will live again. We all will. We can have complete and full confidence in being able to see, be with, and enjoy the company of all those who have passed on. Death will die, and Life will live.
Over the last few years in our community, and across the country, we have been too familiar with Death and its plague of painful devastation. It rears its ugly head way too early sometimes. When it happens to come abruptly, or unsuspectingly, it shakes us and our belief. How could it not? It is a surprise attack, an ambush. Death is something that we all think will happen after a full and complete and fulfilling life. When it comes early, it causes us to reexamine all the things we believe, or have believed, or been taught about that happens after we die. We are left with nothing but faith. Death quickly morphs from a future eventuality and screams forward and slams us with its sudden present reality.
As I thought more about this, I began to realize why death is such a difficult enemy to deal with. Although we will all pass through that door, Death is powerful and painful because of the sorrow caused by its separation. We love to be, and long to be with those we love. When we are apart from them, it hurts. Even more so when it comes unexpectedly and abruptly.
This is true with both physical and spiritual death. It hurts. We are separated from either where we want to be, with whom we want to be, or even how we want to be. Does it not also hurt when we ourselves, or a loved one make choices that can bring about spiritual death, or separation from the Spirit?
But, there is good news. We know who wins. We have the Almanac. It is abundantly clear. Death dies. Life lives. Both in physical and spiritual senses.
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
In our Divine Almanac, we can also read about how some amazing people have stared directly into Death’s eyes, and overcome. It can inspire us to exercise patience in developing the faith necessary to do so in our own lives.
In order to face the end of your own life with peace and calm requires a sure understanding and a rock-solid faith. It requires a testimony hardened and engrained so permanently that it is impossible to extract even when Death unsheathes fear as his weapon of choice.
The sons of Helaman had it…
“Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” (Alma 56:47)
Joseph Smith also faced his fate with faithful confidence…
“I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am as calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of an offense toward God and toward all men…” (from the Diary of Willard Richards)
In the Book of Mormon, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis laid prostrate down on the ground in prayer before an advancing vicious Lamanite army and willingly gave up their lives so as to not break a covenant they had made with God to never spill another’s blood again. Imagine the unshakable faith it would have taken to conquer the fear of that moment.
When we are trying our best, yet still suffer through difficulties and tragedies in our lives, we need to understand that we are in good company. We aren’t alone. This battle of life and death has touched almost all of us. We can be assured that our experiences with these events are acknowledged and recorded in the heavens above, and that our “labor is not in vain”.
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord.”
-1 Corinthians 15:55-58
The sting of death is calmed by the Savior. He won. Life wins. Death dies. His Atonement eliminates the eternal sorrow of separation. He, the Savior, is the one who gives us peace.
“…He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…to comfort all that mourn…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces…”(Isaiah 25:6)
Because of our Ultimate Superhero, our Savior, we are able to overcome physical, and spiritual death. He won. He overcame. Life wins. Death dies. And he invites us to share in his victory with him by and through our obedience to his commandments, and following the precepts of his Gospel.
Because the Savior overcame all, we will all live forever.
Where we live forever, and with whom we live forever, is up to us.