Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.Genesis 5:24 (NIV)
Was Enoch the first in recorded history to depart from this world suddenly? Genesis 5 tells us, one moment he was there. Then, he was gone. For someone to pass on without suffering death was unheard of. The verse is clear: Enoch didn’t die. And yet, his sudden departure had the same result. “Then he was no more.”
A grim reminder
Enoch’s story seems unique. Enoch was singularly honored, ushered to Heaven without a lifetime’s wait or the steep payment of death. And yet, Enoch’s story is relatable in the 21st century. The abrupt way Enoch left the earth is reminiscent of a modern phenomenon. He was healthy. Then he was gone without warning.
Genesis 5 reflects a modern news story appearing on social media.
Genesis 5 reflects a modern news story appearing on social media. Seemingly healthy people are collapsing and dying in the prime of life. Specialists, from doctors to insurance companies, report a spike in sudden deaths across the world. Unlike Enoch, people have died. And yet, it’s a sudden and irrevocable departure.
What’s most unnerving is the type of person affected. The healthy and athletic are among those suffering from cardiovascular issues. Speculation abounds over the cause. Was the damage caused by COVID-19 or the experimental vaccine? This upending of expectations has led people to question their mortality early. Life expectancy in the United States is 79 years. Do we have as much time as we think?
An uncertain view
Christians, too, have shown a fear of mortality. One lesson of the global pandemic of 2020-22 is that many Christians are fearful of dying. We observed what could be considered an alarmist reaction within the Church toward COVID-19. Churches far and wide found themselves evangelizing for government mandates. Many closed their doors for months. It was suggested by some at the time, the mandates were based on faulty information. A number of churches defied orders that were deemed unbiblical. Many now conclude these churches were correct.
It’s a fact known by every Christian. Christ conquered death. The Christian should not only not fear death but, when the time comes, accept it serenely, without worry. Paul boasted, “O Death, where is thy sting?” Later, he anticipated death in order to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
Modern Christians lack this level of assurance about death.
Christian missionaries have charged toward pandemic sites to minister to the dying. Modern Christians lack this level of assurance about death. It may not be a question of one’s resolve. As Jesus warned, “The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak.” True Christians stumble over many things. What brings otherwise mature believers to the point of near-unbelief over the prospect of their deaths?
Good for him
The book of Genesis provides an answer, and yet, it, too, holds many challenges for a modern faith. From Adam and Eve, the serpent, and the forbidden fruit, to the earth-encompassing Flood, the first eight chapters alone are a stumbling block for those unaided by the Holy Spirit. Similarly, Enoch’s ancient example makes it appear irrelevant today. Except for this one curiosity. No modern Christian views Enoch’s sudden removal from the world as unfair, a tragedy. Far from it.
Does anyone imagine that Enoch himself was disappointed by his early departure?
Has anyone heard a sermon that claims, “poor Enoch. His life was cut short?” Does anyone imagine that Enoch himself was disappointed by his early departure? Isn’t there a note of triumph in the phrase, “then he was no more?”
One could complain that Enoch had been spared death; nevertheless, he was required to leave his life without saying goodbye. He was suddenly removed from his family, his work, his pleasures and routines. He was taken at 365 years, an impossibly long time for today. And yet, those who know Biblical history recognize the lifespan of early man was upwards of 900 years. (Adam is recorded as having lived to 930.) Adjusting for today, Enoch’s life ended at 29 years old.
But not us?
“If only I could go out that way,” is the Christian’s general reaction to Enoch’s passing. No hospital bed, end-of-life life care, or awkward, tearful goodbyes; instead, a graceful exit. What makes it OK for Enoch to go “young” but not us?
Enoch is different because we acknowledge the cause of his ending.
Enoch is different because we acknowledge the cause of his ending. Enoch’s life wasn’t unjustly cut down by a murderer as happened to Abel. It was taken by God Himself.
According to the writer of Hebrews, Enoch was receiving the highest reward given at that time in history. “Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.” Hebrews 11 goes on to define this faith: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” The writer of Hebrews connects Enoch’s three hundred years of walking with God, a first at the time, with the faith we’re commanded to show today. Then, seemingly to single out this early faith, God takes Enoch early.
God was in control of Enoch’s ending. It was just. If God took us home this way, life wouldn’t feel cut short. It would be akin to an early retirement to Heaven.
We worry about death because it seems more senseless. We think of the way Lot’s family died in the midst of Satan’s wager. We think of the eighteen people Jesus references as having died when the tower in Silom fell. These were sudden deaths that turned people into victims and statistics. There’s nothing we dread more than a random, undignified death that seems to be the work of chance or worse.
There’s nothing we dread more than a random, undignified death…
Death makes us irrational. It makes us forget that God is in charge of everything.
We remember there is no Biblical reason to fear. Christians base their faith on a God who is all-knowing, always good, and who ordains everything for His glory.
Just as a Christian understands that no pregnancy is ever really an accident, no death can ever be truly unexpected. It comes to the old and the young, both suddenly and after much warning. The outward circumstance is irrelevant. In every case, God authors the length of our days.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;Psalm 139:16 (NIV)
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Fearing death is a natural, understandable, perhaps unavoidable part of life. Accepting God’s sovereignty over something so vital is a blessing of faith.
What obedience accomplishes
God’s Word can become less memorable at times. It doesn’t become less true.
What did Enoch’s obedience accomplish? For starters, it prevented Enoch from being swept up in the coming lawlessness of Genesis 6. Enoch was spared the terror of the Flood. God’s taking of Enoch also broadcast his faith to generations afterwards. Ultimately, it rewarded Enoch himself for his service to God.
God chose Enoch … to show the way we would all be saved from death.
Enoch, and Elijah after him, were particularly blessed. Both men skipped death. And yet, we are promised a similar blessing in the new covenant. God chose Enoch, a man who lived thousands of years before Christ, to show the way we would all be saved from death. We may not be spared a physical passing, but it will be similarly memorable to the faithful, as majestic as that of a man taken away.
Heavenly Father, give us an eternal view of the reality of death. Remind us to accept the promise in the Bible and to forego our limited understanding. Let us live boldly because we know our future is assured by Christ’s sacrifice. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
This post first appeared at Kneeling Low.