Where Is Death’s Sting?

I love the Christian hymn “Abide With Me.”

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

I’m thinking about the line, “Where is death’s sting?” That’s not a Jewish sentiment. In Jewish life, there’s no denial that pain, suffering and death sting. Judaism doesn’t discount this world and emphasize that in the next world things will be much better better. Instead, Judaism and Jews relentlessly keep their focus on this life (though Judaism has always affirmed a belief in the afterlife, it has never emphasized it, nor used it much as a palliative for suffering in this life). When you go to a Jewish funeral, there’s little talk about where is death’s sting. We don’t wax eloquent about earth’s vain shadows fleeing.

Reading this hymn and listening to it, it is easy to understand the appeal of Christianity which focuses on individual salvation to the next world where things will be much much better. That makes it much easier to not get too upset about what happens in the here and now.

Because Jews do get upset about the here and now, they have much more influence on the world, per person, than do Christians or members of any other religion.

As a convert to Judaism, I notice a distinctly Jewish urgency to life while my Seventh-Day Adventist upbringing taught me passivity (which is why Adventists have virtually no influence on this world outside the fields of health and medicine).

Lawrence Hoffman says Reform Judaism had an early preference for Christian hymns with the particularly Christian verses removed.

“Abide With Me” was sung at Temple Israel in St. Louis.

I’m sure the last stanza was omitted:

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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