To the world (non-believers), death is defeat. It means “game over”, battle lost, start crying. Non-believers use every means at their disposal to prolong their life, as their goal is to delay death and live as long as they can.
In contrast, to believers, death is when real life begins. It’s what we’re living for, so the less time we spend on Earth, the better.
The night before he died, Jesus told his disciples that if they loved him, they’d be happy for him because he was going home. His disciples were crying, but he told them they should instead be happy. He said that where he was going was infinitely better than where he was, and that if they really understood that, they’d be celebrating with him, not crying and trying to hold him back.
We’re trapped in our mortal bodies, and death is the only way out. It’s important that we see our body as something separate from who we really are. Paul called the body a vessel of the spirit, and so it is. We should look after our body (just as we would any vessel that we use daily), but we shouldn’t obsess over it. Our body is just a container. It’s what our body contains that we should be obsessing over.
A few days ago, I caught the tail-end of a film discussion. A woman was describing how the director had been forced by popular consent to change the film’s ending from the main character dying to the main character “riding off into the sunset”. She referred to the “riding off into the sunset” ending as a happy ending. Listening to the woman, I recalled how I viewed death when I was an atheist. I saw it as inescapable and inevitable, but I didn’t want to think about and I certainly didn’t want to talk about it. If someone got sick and died – well, that person “lost the battle”. Death was ugly and sad; the thought of it was like a funeral dirge overlaying the Happy Birthday song of life.
The dead relatives and friends I went to see at funeral homes looked odd to me. It was them, and it wasn’t them. I couldn’t quite place what made them look different (skin tone? prone position? set of the mouth?). The “life”, as they say, was gone out of them, but what was that life? As an atheist, I had no answer for that.
Now, as a believer, I have an answer. I know what the “life” is that leaves the body at death. And I see death as something to look forward to as long as I stay in God’s grace.
I’m not afraid of death and it doesn’t make me sad to think or talk about it. On the contrary, I’m looking forward to death the way an expectant mother looks forward to giving birth for the first time – slightly nervous about the pain that might accompany the event, but joyously excited about what comes afterwards.
What I dislike about death now is how it is misrepresented in mainstream so-called Christian religion. I hate the lies that are spouted at funerals (which I no longer attend). I hate the presumption that all Christians go to Heaven. It’s a flat-out lie. Jesus dealt with the same presumption with the Jews of his day, and he also hated that lie. The Jews hated him for telling them that their presumption was a lie. Instead of listening and accepting truth, they hated him. This same skewed mindset about death and Heaven pervades mainstream Christianity today.
Death is a happy ending for those who die in God’s grace. It’s their reward or “payment for services rendered”. We need to revise our view of death to see it not as a failure or ‘sad ending’, but as Jesus saw it. Heaven is everything we’ve ever wanted. It’s a place of no tears, no pain, no unhappiness, no dissatisfaction, no ugliness, no homelessness, no rot, no decay, no hunger and no sickness. If we make it to Heaven, we’ll be ‘perfected’ in every way. This is not something to cry over or be afraid of. We’d be crazy to cry over that. Our earthly bodies are but a pale shadow of what our glorious Heavenly bodies will be. It’s like our souls are now wrapped in a filthy rag (our Earthly bodies), but some day, if we stay close to God, our soul be wrapped in the finest of materials (our Heavenly bodies).
Despite how much we have to look forward to in Heaven, we are never to hasten our own death. Suicide (even doctor-assisted) is self-murder, and murder is contrary to the commandments. Those who knowingly and willingly violate the commandments and remain unrepentant will not be rewarded by a place in Heaven. God has written his laws in our hearts, so there is no excuse for doing what we know in our heart-of-hearts is wrong.
The best course is to live out your life to its natural conclusion and go willingly when your time has come. I have no doubt whatsoever that people know when their time has come. God tells them, one way or another, and then gives them time to repent. He also gives them strength to endure, if they align their wills with his. Even those who don’t have eyes to see or ears to hear will know when their time has come. God loves us all equally and doesn’t want any of us to go to Hell. But to Hell we’ll go, if, even on our death bed, we choose man’s laws over God’s.
Jesus infuriated the Jews of his day when he told them outright that they would likely go to Hell and that the people they looked down on (tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars, etc.) would likely go to Heaven. The religious Jews saw their Jewishness as a ticket to Heaven, but nothing could be further from the truth. The religious ‘Christians’ of today have the same arrogance and false expectations. And if you point that out to them, you’ll get the same response as Jesus got.
Sometimes, as Jesus showed us, it’s better to say nothing.
The world sees death as a medical failure and something to fear. Don’t be fooled by that lie. But also don’t be fooled by the lie that Heaven is a sure bet for believers. Rather, see death as Jesus saw it – a great reward and homecoming for those who freely do God’s will. There is no happier ending than what awaits those very, very, very few who die in God’s grace and in God’s time.
Aim for Heaven. Don’t proudly expect it – aim for it.