What a wonderful truth we find in Psalm 116.15: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (KJV). What a sweet, hope-giving word in season! And yet, on the surface of things, these words may sound a little bit odd, or perhaps even confusing.
First, we need to ask: Who are "the saints"? In our culture – and especially in the part of the country in which we live – “the saints” are often thought to be St. Peter, St. Anne, St. Vincent, St. Xavier, St. Mary, and so on. The saints, in many people’s minds, are those super-spiritual folks of old. Those seraphic characters who have churches and hospitals named after them. And, if that’s what Psalm 116 means by ‘the saints’, then it’s not a great deal of help to us when we lie in or sit beside a hospital bed. None of us will ever have that hospital named after us!
But praise God that, in the Bible, “the saints” is not a reference only to the apostles and a few select others … but to all of God’s believing people. In fact, what “the saints” really means is simply “the godly ones”; the ones who are set apart to God; the ones who have been bought by Jesus’ blood, and are being changed into His image! Those are “the saints”!
And so, when we read that the death of the saints is “precious in the sight of the Lord,” we are to understand that God is not only smiling down upon the deathbeds of the Marys and Augustines of the world, but upon the deathbed of every single one of His children – no matter how quietly they lived, no matter how late they turned to Christ, no matter how obscure their life may have been! “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” – all of them!
But that brings up a second question: How can anyone call death “precious”? The deterioration of the body, the pale coldness of the flesh, the pain and the gasping, the tears that flow, and the holes that are left in families seem anything but precious. Death is a sad thing. Death is an intrusion. It was never meant to be this way. And so how is it that the psalmist can call it “precious”?
Well, let us not fail to notice that the psalmist says that “death” is “precious in the sight of the Lord.” It may not, in many ways, be precious in our sight. It may feel, to us who are left behind, like an arrow piercing our innermost being. It is horrible, in so many ways. But in the sight of the Lord, it is “precious” – not because of the pain, or the tears, or the grief; but because the Lord knows (far better than we do) just what awaits His saints on the other side! He knows how delighted they will be to see Him face to face! He knows how the angels will celebrate when they come! He knows how happy they will be to be finally free of sin, and pain, and sorrow! And that is why death is “precious in His sight.” When they die, the Lord’s saints have finally begun to live!
But you and I cannot see all that the Lord sees – at least not with our physical eyes. And so, for us, death is sometimes anything but precious. But let us attempt to see, by faith, as the Lord sees. We will have to look through tears. And the vision won’t be as clear as we’d wish. But when we see the other side with the eyes of faith, “the death of the saints” – painful as it may be – will be “precious” in our sight, too!