Approaching death with faith
Death is never easy. But if we belong to Christ, the crucified and risen one, how can we not approach it with faith, however faltering, and with hope, however fragile? By Colin Sedgwick
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on’. Revelation 14:13
We had a chat recently about dying, my wife and I. Which of us would go first? In what form would it claim us? Would it be very painful and distressing, or would we be spared suffering?
I can’t remember now what prompted our conversation – perhaps the death of a friend, or the fact that we had chalked up 40 years of marriage. It wasn’t a long conversation, and in no way morbid; in fact we managed without any difficulty to find some aspects to laugh about. I think it was a healthy conversation to have – not trying to hide away from a topic that we all find unwelcome, but looking it fair and square in the face.
The New Testament is not just up-front about death, it positively shakes its fist at it: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?... Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). So exclaims the apostle Paul, quoting from Isaiah 25 and Hosea 13.
Even more striking, there is that moment when he plainly states that he has reached the point where death, for him, would be preferable to staying alive: “… to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
To die is gain! What a thing to say! Can he say it because he is so exceptionally “spiritual”? Or is he simply, after many years of suffering for Christ’s sake, his body battered and beaten, his mind worn down, simply – well, ready to go?
We don’t know. But what we do know is that he looked into the face of death with strong confidence. And if him, why not us too?
I don’t mean, of course, to make light of death – please don’t think that. Death is a horrible thing, and it’s entirely natural that for most of our lives we shrink from it. Paul may describe it as “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), but enemy is the word he uses! I’m conscious that there may be some reading this for whom death is a very present enemy, and certainly no laughing matter.
(I’ve never been quite comfortable with that verse of Francis of Assisi’s great hymn, “And thou, most kind and gentle death,/ Waiting to hush our latest breath”. For many, death comes as anything but “kind and gentle”. And I’m always grateful for the little detail Luke gives us in Acts 8:2, that after the stoning of Stephen, “Godly men buried him and mourned deeply for him”. They knew he had gone to be with Jesus, but that didn’t stop them feeling the bitterness of death – they didn’t cry “Praise the Lord!” and dance a jig.)
Death is best looked full in the face. Let me share three scenarios from my own experience…
First: a sitting room where an elderly man is rapidly approaching death, and some neighbours have come round to offer support. They’re kind, well-meaning people, but, I have to admit, I find myself getting more and more cross. “Oh, we’ll soon have you up and running around again, old chap!” – that’s the form their comfort takes. And I’m sitting there thinking “Oh, stop it! What’s the point of this? The dear man is dying. And he knows he’s dying. His wife and family know he’s dying. And you know he’s dying. Stop this pretence!” I don’t say it, but that’s the way I’m thinking. (Easy for me, of course.)
Second: another sitting room where a really elderly lady welcomes me. She hasn’t been out of the house for some years, and her body has pretty well closed down. We always pray for a few moments before I leave, and she says: “Oh, Colin, please pray that the Lord will take me!” Which, of course, I gladly do. And which, of course, he gladly does (though not quite immediately!).
Third: a young married woman has been fighting terminal illness for several years. She has received the best treatment available, and been loved and prayed for by her family, church and friends. But it’s clear the time is approaching.
So she and her husband arrange occasional “Getting ready for heaven” parties. I personally never attended one, so I can’t vouch for what went on. But I have a pretty good idea: nice food and drink; plenty of chat and laughter; plenty of prayer. And, I suspect, not a few tears.
What a difference Jesus makes!
No, death is never easy. But if we belong to Christ, the crucified and risen one, how can we not approach it with faith, however faltering, and with hope, however fragile?
May God help us to cling to the clear promise of his word: “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 21:4).
Thanks be to God!
Loving heavenly Father, thank you that Jesus conquered death, and that by faith in him I share in his victory. May that peace and hope fill my heart until the day when I see him face to face. Amen.
Image | Eyasu Etsub | Unsplash
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com
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