March 14, 1995
Following the death of his first wife, pastor and Bible expositor Donald Grey Barnhouse was taking his children to her funeral. They stopped at a traffic light and a large truck sped by, its shadow engulfing them for a moment. Turning to his grieving family, Barnhouse asked, “Would you have rather been hit by the truck or its shadow?”
“The shadow,” they replied.
Barnhouse responded, “That’s what happens to Christians when they die. Your mother was touched only by the shadow of death.”
Barnhouse’s analogy is familiar to those who know the 23rd Psalm. Verse four says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
In contrast, those who understand death only as the cessation of physical life would scorn that as “Silly, when you are dead, you are dead.” They see little if any difference between the death of a Christian and the death of anyone else.
However, David, the psalm writer and king of Israel, thought death was only a shadow too. He acknowledged the possibility of fear yet looked to God knowing His presence would comfort him. Where did he get the idea that death is a shadow? Probably from the same Spirit of God that Barnhouse did. This shadow analogy is another way to describe His assurance of eternal life. Shadows are nothing more than places not fully illuminated because comes between them and light. They take the shape of whatever causes them but that is the only resemblance.
Scientists do not agree on the nature of life and death. The Bible has much to say about both. In Genesis, it describes God creating the first man from dust. He became a living creature when God “breathed” life into him. The word “spirit” is the same word as “breathed.” Physical death is the loss of this breathed in life. The spirit leaves the body and the body returns to the ground from which it came.
The Bible also describes another kind of death, a spiritual death. It occurs when the soul or spirit (the inner part of man) is separated from God. This happens because of sin. In other words, people may be physically alive but can also be “dead in their trespasses and sins.”
Scripture says life is not snuffed out when the body dies but “the spirit goes to God who gave it.” That is, life continues after physical death.
According to Jesus, there are two possibilities. He said, “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” Some will exist eternally alive with God. Others will exist in a state of eternal condemnation — separated from God.
This is why death is a shadow for a Christian. Spiritual death is that which separates people from God. Christians are not hit with this death. Instead of going into darkness and condemnation and all that God is not, “whoever hears His word and believes . . . has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Through faith in Christ, believers experience only physical death, the shadow. After passing through it, they enter God’s presence and remain there forever.