We (in most western cultures) are more insulated from suffering and death than any previous people (and we like it that way).
Aging parents are no longer completing their final days in our homes. We visit our elderly in convalescent facilities and hospitals We prefer not to allow the realities of suffering and death to be part of the ongoing experience of life.
Previous generations welcomed aging parents into their homes to finish their time on earth. This came with hardships and sacrifices, but it also educated young people in what earlier generations called, “The art of dying well.”
It’s one thing to teach loved ones how to live well; another, to teach them how to die.
A wise teacher once said, “Death is the destiny of every person and the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
We cannot deny or escape the universal truth “From dust we have come and to dust we shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Even those who deny the account of their dusty beginning will most certainly provide evidence for a return to dust.
It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor; influential or unknown; educated or uneducated; religious or heathen — one day, we all must breathe our last breath, and we must die.
Before going on about death, let’s affirm seven truths about death and life.
- Death is an enemy and a thief
- Death physically separates us from our loved ones
- Death is an occasion for grief and sorrow
- Death is a consequence of our sin as a judgment or curse
- Life is precious as made in the image and likeness of God
- Life should be valued and promoted
- Life should be protected when possible
Something to live and die for
“A paradox stands at the center of life: only when we give it away, do we really have it. That was the secret that was hidden in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. There is, therefore, no longer any threat from death; it cannot take from a person what he has already willingly given up. … Christians have found something to die for; therefore, they have also found something to live for. Life was no longer a possession one longed to preserve, but it was what one desired to devote to God”(The Eclipse of Heaven, A.J. Conyers).
“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story” (Robert C. Roberts).
The great Puritan, Richard Baxter testified that he committed himself to thirty minutes a day meditating on heaven. We need to have more teaching and music directing our thoughts to heaven. We need the mentality of the pioneers of the faith, typified by Abraham and his family, of whom it was said, “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb 11:16).
“It is imperative that we begin early the process of dying. We must no longer fear death; we must see it as a defeated enemy. We must begin to relinquish the material values of this life and to focus increasingly on the life of eternity that God has prepared for us. It is with these perspectives that we will be prepared to face the latter days of our lives.” (Dr. John Dunlop, “A Physician’s Advice to Spiritual Counselors of the Dying).
Truths to anchor us
Consider some examples and truths to guide us and give us hope.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; ” (Philippians 1:21-23).
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 2:20-21).
“One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all of the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:3)
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26.)
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).
“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
There is a world coming where “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).