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Dealing With Death and Dying
By Richard D. Dobbins
Discussing death and dying is taboo in most circles. I think most of us are curious about dying and death, but we are inhibited in raising the subject in conversation with other people. We ought to be talking about it more as a society, because inevitably this is something that happens to all of us.
For one thing human beings are afraid of dying. The Bible says some people are held in bondage to this fear all of their lives. We must understand some things to break out of this fear of death. We must understand that death and dying are:
In our society, for example, many of the video games that young people play involve blasting human beings into pieces, and then when you start a new game everybody is alive again. This leaves many of our children thinking about death as though it were not real, as though it were not terminal.
But to deal with death and dying effectively, we must, first, see it as real. Life has two terminal points, birth and death, and to prepare for death and dying realistically, you must acknowledge that just as there was a time when you came into this world, there will be a time when you leave this world. When we deny this reality, we do not prepare ourselves for the time when we will experience death and dying.
People need to see that so they can use the life they have in a way that is pleasing to God and a way that gives them joy.
I think somewhere between the morbidity that some people have and being preoccupied with the whole process of death and dying and the hysteria that some people have of never wanting to talk about death and dying, there is a good, wholesome reality where we realize death and dying are part of living. That, just as we are born and this is the culmination of a process of conception and gestation, there will come a time when dying will lead us to the end of our life, which is called death.
One of the great tourist attractions in Europe is the awesome clock in the public square in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. The theme of that great clock is the inevitability of death. The grim reaper, who makes his appearance every hour on the hour, symbolizes death. As he appears a young man steps forward to protest that he is too young to die. Then, a vain man appears protesting that he is too handsome to die. Finally, a merchant appears pleading that he has not yet made enough money. But the grim reaper will not be denied. The message of the clock is the inevitability of death — the passerby is reminded of the value of life. What a lesson to learn.
It is not easy to see death as personal. We know that we will die someday, but we have an uncanny ability as seeing it happening to everyone but us. Sometimes I jokingly say that when my friends learn of my death they will comfort themselves by saying, “Well, he lived a good, long life.” By relegating death to be appropriate for me, they will protect themselves. But very few normal human beings want to die. We all want every day of decent life we can have. You have perhaps repeated the saying, “Every day above ground is a good day.”
In fact, we try to pretend that we are not as old as we are. That is what the cosmetic industry is all about. We want to try to fool ourselves into believing that we are not as old as we are, that we are younger than we are. In this way we try to avoid the personal dimensions of death.
But realistically we should have our final papers and everything in order long before our personal deaths. I see so many times loved ones are left with little or no guidance in terms of what needs to be done when a person has died. That is because the person did not want to deal with the reality of death, the inevitability of death, and the personal dimensions of death. One who looks at death realistically will make these preparations. That is the last act of love you can display for your family and your loved ones.
Because the truth of the matter is that I will die. You will die. The sooner we see this inevitability as personal, the wiser we will live our lives.
Solomon reminds us that there is a time to be born and a time to die (see Ecclesiastes 3:2). But I think there are ways in which lives are shortened. That is the role of our enemy, the devil. Jesus calls him the thief; he comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy (see John 10:10). We can shorten our days by being careless in our health habits. And we can shorten our days by living dangerously.
We can also lengthen life through healing. God does grant us information through the medical sciences that can bring healing and, of course, there are times where anointing with oil and the prayer of faith brings healing to a person who is in the process of dying.
Those of us who believe in the sanctity of life believe that only God should control the process of dying and death. This is one thing both Calvinists and Armenians agree on. That is, we see death as providential; it puts God in charge of the process. He was in charge of my birth. I was not the least bit anxious about whether I was going to make it into this world or not. And realizing that He is in charge of my death relieves the anxiety of dying. The Psalmist said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).
Believers are looking forward to the coming of the Lord. Sometimes we refer to this event as the Rapture. This is not a biblical word, but it is a biblical event that Paul refers to in 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17:
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
So death is not terminal for the child of God.
The Bible tells us that death for the children of God will expand their awareness, will intensify their awareness. It is not the end of consciousness. It is only the death of the body.
Here are some biblical references to bear this out:
- Moses and Elijah knew what Jesus was facing at Jerusalem (see Luke 9:28–33).
- Jesus said we would recognize Abraham and Isaac (see Matthew 8:11).
- Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (see Acts 7:55,56).
- John saw saints who had died praying (see Revelation 7:9,10).
God does not want us to be morbidly preoccupied with our death, but He does want us to deal with it realistically and practically. In a sense, no one is really ready to live until he is ready to die. God wants us to live as though each day were our last and dream like we will never die. The God who gives you grace to live by will give you grace to die by. Are you on talking terms with Him? Do you know His Son Jesus Christ as your Savior?
Jesus willingly faced death so that your sins could be forgiven and you can go to heaven when you die. Open your heart to Him today and ask Him to forgive your sins. He will not only help you face death realistically, but He will also make life a celebration for you.
Richard D. Dobbins is founder of EMERGE Ministries, Inc., Akron, Ohio.