So Why Be Afraid of Death?

by Ted Kyle

Hallelujah

Hallelujah! Alive Forevermore! - Part 1

Author's note: I write these words as one under a sentence of death. I do not, at this point, know the day, nor even the year; but I know the sentence has been handed down. It's been called non-Hodgkins lymphoma, also known as chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Under either label, it is terminal. As you can imagine, the interval of a few years has given me time to reflect on the meaning of life-as well as work toward completing the assigned tasks God has given me to accomplish. The thoughts that follow are the fruits of that reflection.

Why Do We Fear Death?

For a Christian, that is a good question. Perhaps our fear is instinctive-but then we must ask: Instinctive to which nature? Certainly not our new nature in Christ Jesus! Fear of death is built into our old, fallen nature, and for good reason. But that cannot be a valid basis for fear to the new creation in us, if we are indeed born anew.

Some might say it is fear of the unknown-and truly, the land beyond the portal of death is mysterious, for in all the long history of the world, no human has ever died and then reported back. (While I am aware of the so-called "near-death experiences," I must discount them heavily, for the simple reason that none of those individuals actually died. Furthermore, the consensus of their reports-that all were made to feel welcome by the "being of light"-is more akin to pop theology, which asserts that everybody goes to heaven, than it is to the Bible. One has to ask why Jesus had to die, if the "near-death" reports are true.)

But while we have no contemporary first-hand reports on heaven (or hell), we do have the Bible, and it has much to say about life after death. Our Lord Jesus, in the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), described at least the entrance portals of heaven and hell, when He spoke of Lazarus as being in "the bosom of Abraham," and the rich man asking that Lazarus be sent to cool him with a little water. It is interesting to note that Jesus had more to say about hell than He did about heaven-as though He was striving to drive a point home. This reinforces the contention that the world outside of Christ has every reason to fear, while those secure in Him have nothing to fear.

Again, fear of death may be so prevalent in part because virtually everything we read, hear, or watch is linked in one way or another to saving life, prolonging life, enhancing life-or exacting vengeance for the taking of life. Where can we hear again those wonderful old Negro spirituals such as "Deep River…My home is over Jordan…Lord I wants to cross over into Camp Ground" or "Roll, Jordan, Roll…I wants to go to heaven when I die"? Not in church! Not even the great modern song, "This World Is Not My Home…I'm just a passing through." We're too busy trying to stoke the spiritual temperature of our congregations with cheer-leader tactics.

Strange to say, only the euthanasia and "death with dignity" crowd have much good to say about death, and that is purely about negative values, such as cessation of pain and being spared the indignities of failing bodies and failing minds.

Only Christians can truly know the value of death, as a door we must pass through to reach the other side, but we seem hesitant to speak of it, if we acknowledge it at all.

Why Should We Not Fear?

"Death, where is thy sting?" Paul asked in 1 Corinthians 15:55-and answered in the next verse: "The sting of death is sin."

Simply put, if our sin problem has been solved in Christ, there is no more basis for fear. The Bible tells us about heaven and tells us how to arrive there with our robes washed clean in the blood of Christ. What's to be afraid of? Nothing! Not any sort of death, including martyrdom! Jesus tells us that we are not to fear those who can merely kill our bodies; instead, we are to fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28; cf. Luke 12:4).

Again, we are told in 1 John 4:18 to fear nothing, for "perfect (mature) love casts out all fear." Let us liken the child of God to toddlers in this world, and if we can, remember when we, as small children, walked through busy streets-barely comprehending the dangers that whizzed past us, because our little hands were securely locked in the strong grasp of our parents. Truly, if we are content to walk by faith, with our hand in His, there is nothing we can face which should make us afraid.

Why Should We Yearn to Go?

A better Person, a better place, a better peace-all await us. No one can describe this better than John Bunyan did in his wonderful "dream," Pilgrim's Progress. Here, for example-as retold by James H. Thomas in Pilgrim's Progress in Today's English [Moody Press, 1964]-is the glorious testimony of Mr. Standfast, as he stood on the brink of the final river to cross:

"‘This river has been a terror to many. Yes, and the thoughts of it have also frightened me. But now I stand easy…. The thought of what I am going to and of the convoy that awaits me on the other side lies like a glowing coal on my heart…. I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are over. I am going to see the head that was crowned with thorns and the face that was spit upon for me…. Now I am going where I shall live by sight, and I shall be with Him in whose company I delight…. His voice I rejoice to hear, and His face to me exceeds all beauty in earth and sky.' As he finished the last sentence, his countenance changed…and he was gone after he said, ‘Take me, Lord, for I come to thee.'"

Why Then Should We Linger?

First of all, to go or not to go is not our choice-it is our Father's choice, and we have not the right to take matters out of His hands. First Corinthians 3:16,17 asserts: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy, for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." In this passage, "defile" and "destroy" are translations of the same Greek word, phtheíro. The verse could quite legitimately be read: "If any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy…." Taken with other passages, such as "…ye are not your own…for ye are bought with a price…" (1 Cor. 6:19,20), the Bible's teaching is quite clear: It is entirely up to our Master as to when He calls us home. For obedient servants of the Most High God, there can be no further discussion of this point.

Secondly, to depart before our time would run the risk of leaving our tasks unfinished and our responsibilities unfulfilled. Ephesians 2:10 strongly implies that from before the dawn of time, our Father assigned us "good works" to accomplish in our lifetime. We cannot know the full list of these good works. Only our Father knows the list in its entirety. We may still be accomplishing "good works" on our death beds, strengthening the faith of family members and friends-and just possibly the attendant medical personnel-by our calm and serene acceptance.

If I may, let me apply this personally: Knowing that my own time is limited-though not by how much-I find myself of two minds. One part of me longs to be "at home" at last, where there are no more tears, no more pain, no more putting up with the world (including the dregs of the world in me); and to the contrary, I will be basking in the presence of my Lord and the company of angels and the great host of saints who have preceded me.

The other part of me, however, wishes to do all here below that God has laid out for me. I know of two areas of responsibility: one is the work to which the Father has called me-and this I shall pursue as long as I am able; the other area, of relationships, is centered in my wife, Marga, to whom I owe all the love and care and support which she lavished on me during the preceding 47 years of our marriage. To paraphrase and borrow what one fine saint said, as he announced that he was stepping down from the presidency of a Christian institution, "If I spend the next 47 years taking care of her, I still will not have paid back all that she did for me."

Conclusion:

Jesus said in Mark 10:15 "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." That's the way I have tried to live, since becoming a Christian, and that is especially the way I hope to approach death-with my puny hand clasping the hand of my Savior. With my hand in His, I've found nothing to fear in life, and I know I shall find nothing to fear as He ushers me through the dark portal, into the light and life beyond.

What about you, dear reader? You also are under a sentence of death. Are you at peace with that thought? Shouldn't you be? May God bless and guide you as you complete your own sojourn.