He stalks the alleys, suburban avenues and the six lane highways. He shuffles into hovels and sweeps silently through mansions. His hand clutches at the bed-ridden and strikes a man in his prime. Universally feared, none escapes his dreaded touch.
So terrifying is he, that men are afraid to call him by name.
"I'm sorry to tell you, poor Jimmy passed on last night."
"What did he pass on?"
"Well, he left us."
"Left us for whom?"
"He's gone to a better place."
"Lucky him. Although he seemed quite comfortable in his mansion on the hill."
"No, don't you understand? He's no longer with us. He passed away."
Paradoxically, every man succumbs to it, yet everyone tries to avoid it.
Could it be that it is an abnormal state? Were we originally created to live eternally, and the Grim Reaper is a terrifying intrusion? Could the story of Genesis be true? Not allegorically, which would not explain our fear of death, but historically? Were the very first man and woman -- our prototypes -- designed to live forever? Is death an inherited curse from which we are desperately trying to escape?
Perhaps death was not present at the beginning, killing off the weak, selecting 'good' mutations that were advantageous, until we became what we are, resting on the decayed and fossilised corpses of our hoary ancestors? Perhaps the Bible says God has set eternity in the hearts of men, because that is how we were originally created.
If it is indeed a curse and not a callous refining mechanism -- if it was put there by a righteous God and not an indifferent universe, can we appeal to Him for escape? Does He love us enough to reverse the curse? What does He say?
"For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."
Eternal life! What we long for.
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us."
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life."
Death may haunt us; threaten us and growl over us like a monstrous black dog, but Jesus, on the Cross, pulled his teeth and rendered him harmless for Christians. Even his growl can be muffled by the hope of eternal life with our loving Father:
Two missionaries caught proselytising in a country hostile to the Gospel were made to dig their own graves. Guards were left with them to shoot them when they had finished.
As they dug, one said to the other, "Hey, Ben, do you realise we are about to see Jesus face to face?'
With that they started rejoicing, singing and digging as fast as they could. Finally, they finished and looked around expectantly, waiting to be shot and to meet their Saviour. To their surprise and disappointment, the guards had fled!
Anthony was a porter at the hospital. He was brain damaged as a child and spoke very rapidly, one word tumbling onto the next. He loved Jesus and spoke about Him constantly. He was often teased condescendingly by sceptical doctors.
One day, as he looked out of the hospital window, rain lashed against the pane, lightning dazzled and thunder crashed. A doctor came to tease him.
"That lightning is so close, it could come through the window and strike you dead any minute"
Anthony gave him a crooked smile and at his normal unique speed replied,"DrCromme, for-me-instant-death-is-instant-glory!"
Apart from having no teeth, the Black Dog, as Anthony pointed out, is the Christian's portal to glory.
"When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?'"
The Grim Reaper can appear as grim as he likes; the Black Dog can bark and growl, but to those in Christ, it is but the background clinking of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and a prelude to a glorious welcome home.
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