When he was still just a young man, Jonathan Edwards wrote out a series of resolutions and among them he included these words: “Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” Edwards saw value in thinking about death, and not just death in the abstract, but his own death and the circumstances which might surround it. Martin Luther would have agreed that this was a good idea. He wrote, “We should familiarize ourselves with death during our lifetime, inviting death into our presence when it is still at a distance and on the move.”
I guess this may sound morbid to some and especially so in a culture in which we flee from death and live in denial of its power and inevitability, but I have to throw in my lot with those giants of the faith. I try to make books on death a regular part of my reading diet and find that they always challenge me.
Death is the subject of Mike Wittmer’s little gem of a book The Last Enemy. This is a realistic, powerful and hopeful book. He gets right to the point and begins like this:
You are going to die. Take a moment to let that sink in. You are going to die. One morning the sun will rise and you won’t see it. Birds will greet the dawn and you won’t hear them. Friends and family will gather to celebrate your life, and after you’re buried they’ll return to the church for ham and scalloped potatoes. Soon your job and favorite chair and spot on the team will be filled by someone else. The rest of the world may pause to remember–it will give you a moment of silence if you were rich or well known–but then it will carry on as it did before you arrived.
Death will, indeed, take us all. The world will move on and we will be gone. But, of course, death is not the end which means that each of us needs to be prepared to face it and to face what comes beyond its dark door. This is what Wittmer seeks to do in this book, to prepare us to face death with hope and strength and confidence.
The first part of the book introduces the enemy and what Wittmer does exceptionally well is remove some of the romance that Christians may attach to death. Though we have hope in death–hope secured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ–we should never forget that death is an evil intruder in this world, that, as the title of the book suggests, it is the last enemy. He warns,
We must not confuse the good that God brings out of death with death itself. Often people who are facing death say their cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. They mean that the cancer stopped them in their tracks and shocked them into reevaluating their priorities, and now they are spending more time with their kids and focusing on things that matter. But note that it’s their right response to the cancer, not the cancer itself, that is the good thing. Their impending death is unmistakably evil. How else could it shake them awake?
Where the first part focuses on the enemy, the second part focuses on the victor, on Jesus Christ who has conquered death on our behalf. Here he looks to the good news of the gospel and the power and hope of the gospel. He looks to heaven, speculating on why books describing journeys to heaven have become so popular, and writing of the value of lament. Each of the chapters is short, of the size that can be read and digested in just a few minutes.
As a book reviewer I am always looking for books like this one–powerful, biblical books that may otherwise be overlooked and go unnoticed. The Last Enemy is a book that will benefit anyone who reads it. It offers hope to the believer and a life-or-death challenge to the unbeliever. It is an ideal title to stock up on and have on-hand to give away.