Psalm 118:17, I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.
This was my prayer during my days in service to my country in the Army, and nearly on a daily basis. Near death, this prayer has been my strength. Do not be mistaken, however: I did not pray this prayer in a mystical sense that somehow in just believing it hard enough, God would save me from temporal death. That was not my prayer. The prayer was, and is, a reminder of the hope of eternal life I have in Christ. In Paul’s words, I will certainly die because of my sin, but I have the free gift of God of eternal life in Christ Jesus my Lord (Romans 6:23).
In one sense, I look forward to death, but when it approaches my door I fear it and I do not desire it, but this prayer reminds me of the gift of eternal life I have in Christ. I do not know why God spared me from death and continues to do so. It could be because of my pastoral calling, or something else entirely. Either way—and I may never know—it is because of His mercy. God, in His mercy, has deemed it that I live, and as I live, I recount His deeds to the world.
Why does God spare any of us? Answer: His mercy. What does this mean vis-à-vis our inevitable death? Answer: to paraphrase Romans 6 again, because sins kills all of us, but those who die in Christ will rise to eternal life. Thus, as Christians, we despise our death and suffering, but we receive the comfort of the Holy spirit that God is preëminent over this life. As Christ says, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). Therefore, it is impossible for Christians to have the God of the living and remain in death. As Luther says, we must live forever, otherwise He would not be our God. To borrow from Luther again, as Christians, “Death remains no more than a sleep.”
This does not mean we live a life ignorant of risk and danger, for that would be irresponsible stewardship over our bodies, not to mention the responsibilities of our various vocations. Rather, this means although we will face the darkness of death, we rest in the promise of God’s gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Psalm 23:1-4).