The fear of death

skull and bones

The fear of death

We are living in strange times when the world is under siege by a viral pandemic. Naturally, people are afraid. However, I wonder if it is ‘natural’ for a follower of Christ to be afraid or perhaps, better put, if we are meant to respond like natural (mere) men. I understand being initially afraid when something scary suddenly happens but as we sit back and process the events, surely the truths that we have believed should cause faith to arise and fear to leave.

I realize that for some people, there is the fear of economic hardship following this pandemic but I think the greater fear pervading the entire world is the fear of death. For as many as have not acknowledged their sinful state and accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as payment for their forgiveness and who therefore do not have eternal life, they sure do have a reason to fear death. For those who have eternal life, the question remains: Why are you afraid to die?

Before I try to share my own postulations, let’s look at the way a fellow believer in Christ from the early church looked at death:

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. (Philippians 1:20-23 NLT)

I read these words from Paul and then I think about the palpable fear around me, even from followers of Christ Jesus, and I am perplexed. There are two things I pick up from Paul’s words.

1. Christ is not embarrassed by the death of a Christian. He can actually be honoured by my death just as He can be honoured by my life/living. I imagine that the question is how I live and how I die – not as in whether I die from sickness or an accident or in my sleep but as in the condition of my heart and my walk with Him when I die.

2. Dying can actually be viewed as gain… even better than living. Wow! Paul must know something many of us don’t know because the way we pray for long life (even for the aged) indicates we don’t think this way.

I think it’s crucial to address the reasons why we are afraid to die so we can assess ourselves. So, I have come up with a couple of reasons why we are afraid to die and my suggested antidote to the fear:

1. We are afraid for our children (if we have dependent children)
This is a legitimate concern especially if one is a single parent but loses its validity if there is another parent who is responsible and would care for the children. Again, it’s a legitimate concern if one is the main income earner and there’s uncertainty about the other parent’s ability to provide for the children. As a widow for almost seven years at a phase of my life, I had to address this fear head on.

What do I believe?
I had to remind myself (more than once, I admit) that my children are actually God’s children put in my custody to train them in His ways so that when they become adults, they will be godly adults living as light and salt; they will also then be good custodians of the children entrusted into their care by God. With this in mind, I had to accept that God is as committed to their care as He is to mine and that they would be fine; whatever path God puts them on, they will glorify Him at the end and that’s all that matters. So if this is the root cause of your fear of death, I hope this helps.

2. We don’t really believe that there is a better life after this temporal one
There are lots of things we say but don’t really believe. We know what we really believe by the things we do. It thus follows that if we believe there is eternity with God after the relatively short span of life on this earth, our attitude to life and to death should reflect our belief.

What do I believe?
I see two aspects to this disbelief – disbelief that there is an actual Heaven and disbelief that Heaven offers more than this earth does. The latter is what made us pray as university students that Jesus shouldn’t return till we have had a chance to get married and experience sex. LOL!!

Jokes aside, though, there is a phrase that describes this state of heart – love of the world. We are so hung up on acquiring the world’s riches, fame and whatever the world defines as ‘success’ that death looks like a rude interruption. Picture it: if you are on a path that ends in worldly success, death is most definitely an interruption if it comes before you have reached the endpoint (and for some, if it comes before you have had many years of basking at the endpoint). If, however, the end of your path is Christ, death at any point simply takes you straight to your endpoint – a win-win situation. On this path, we can say like Paul, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.”

So I guess the questions we need to ask ourselves are: What is at the end of the path I’m walking or running on? What am I living (and willing to die) for?

[For scriptures about our life after we leave this earth through death or at Jesus’ return, please see John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]