Death is a funny old thing.
We all have to face it sooner or later, but most people spend their lives either pretending death doesn’t exist or doing everything in their power to prevent it.
Born-agains, on the other hand, actually look forward to death the way Jesus looked forward to death because death means an end to our labours and a release from our pain-prone body and the anti-Christ world that hates us.
At the last supper, Jesus told his followers not to be sad that he was leaving them (dying) but to be happy for him because he was going home, would be preparing a place for each of them, and would see them again in that place. Jesus framed death as a blessed relief from this world and therefore a joyful occasion that we should all look forward to with anticipation.
That doesn’t mean we should do things to hasten out death; no, not at all. “Thou shalt not kill” also covers suicide, including assisted suicide. You don’t want your last act before judgement to be breaking a commandment.
I have said good-bye to many loved ones. Mourning is a sharp pain that is unique in human experience; there is no other pain quite like it. The pain never really goes away, but like a trick knee, trips you up when you least expect it. But also like a trick knee, it doesn’t completely dominate your life. After the initial shock of loss and the heavy grief of mourning pass, you can eventually, day by day, be more and more able to live with the loss the same way you live with a trick knee, but it’s still always there; you just never know when it’s going to get you down.
The Bible is full of deaths. The one I recall most vividly is, of course, Jesus’ crucifixion, but there are others that make a deep impression on me. One is the death of David and Bathsheba’s first-born child, the one conceived during their affair. The child – still an infant – becomes ill and languishes near the point of death. David stops doing everything but praying for the child’s health through weeping and fasting. He does this for about a week, not eating, drinking, bathing or performing any of his kingly or husbandly duties. Then the child dies, and the first thing he does is bathe, eat, and pay a conjugal visit to Bathsheba, conceiving Solomon. When he is questioned why he doesn’t mourn his child’s death, David replies that he gave everything in prayer to God for a week, but if it was God’s will that the child die, then he was fine with that and he looked forward to seeing the child again when it was his time to go home.
This cheerful agreement with God’s will around death is a rare feat. Jesus, Paul and Stephen also demonstrate the same cheerful agreement, and we born-agains need to demonstrate it, too, with regard to our own death. I personally am looking forward to going home. God knows that I’m looking forward to it more than anything else on Earth, but I’m not looking forward to the pain that will likely accompany the transition from this world to the next. Jesus, by his own admission, looked forward to going home but not the crucifixion part that he had to go through to get there. You’d have to be a masochist to look forward to the pain that precedes death. Jesus was no masochist, and neither should we be.
There is no reason to fear death if you have a strong and healthy relationship with God. Like all the other trials in life, God will be with you when it’s your time to go home, and he will walk you through it and comfort you the entire way. You will not be alone, even if it looks to unbelievers that you’re alone. Jesus was not alone on the cross; God’s spirit was with him at that time even more powerfully than he was with Jesus during the rest of his ministry. How else, without God’s help, could Jesus have comforted the thief being crucified next to him or preached his last and most powerful sermon by quoting Psalm 22’s opening lines (“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”) and showing the world that he was indeed the Messiah and suffering what the Messiah had to suffer? He could not have done this if God had not been with him. As Jesus had said the evening before – “The father and I are one”, meaning that Jesus’ will and God’s will were the same – Jesus had aligned his will with God’s – which enabled God to powerfully work through him.
We have nothing to fear of death if our relationship with God is strong and healthy, if we know and love God as our heavenly Dad, and if we enter the valley of the shadow of death with a pure heart, like a little child. These are things we need to strive for NOW as we excitedly prepare for the day and hour of our own personal homecoming. If we die in God’s grace, death means the end of all pain – including all of our physical and spiritual trick knees and the memories they cause. God has shown me previews of what waits for me if I make it home, and that place is now more real to me than any place here. It is my home. Earth is work, Heaven is home.