Approaching Death as a Christian

February 2013

The recent sudden death of a friend of my mother’s raised the question, how should Christians approach death? I am not talking about my own death but the death of a loved one or of the loved one of a friend. What about a painful death through physical disability or a degenerative disease? In my observation, too often we do not approach death from a Scriptural basis. Perhaps this arises from the fact that modern medicine has the ability to prolong life even against incredible odds. This may be desirable for the unsaved person, but what about for a Christian? Paul writes, “So, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight, and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord.” (2Co 5:5-8 — HCSB) Do we really believe that if a Christian dies he or she goes to be with Jesus; that they are set free from the struggles and pains of this world; that they have it better than we do? Perhaps we give mental assent to this, but in this loss we think more of ourselves and our loss than their gain. Thus our funerals are more about our pain and our loss and us than about the one who has died.

The Apostle Paul declared, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” (Php 1:21 — HCSB) What is Paul gaining? Well, for one thing he will no longer be plagued by the sinful nature (see e.g. Col 3:4,12-17 – while this passage has life on earth in mind, it is a good example of what a resurrected person is like). Then he will get to see Jesus face-to-face and become like Him (1Co 13:12; 1Jn 3:2). Then he will get a brand new body that won’t ever rot or grow old or die (1Co 15:42ff). (For a great exposition of what heaven will be like, take a look at Randy Alcorn, Heaven [Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004].)  He realized that this planet is just a passing home (1Pe 1:1). We are meant for a new world, not this dying one.

But then Paul goes on to wrestle with the question of whether he should die or not, not because he was afraid of death, but because he wanted to serve the Philippians. That is selflessness, to forgo the incredible things that God has for us when we graduate from this life to the next in order to serve those who are stuck in this fallen planet.

Someone once said, “We pray too much to keep saints out of heaven and don’t pray enough to get sinners in.” Rather than demanding God heal one of His children that is suffering on this sinful world, perhaps we should pray that they be released from their suffering by being taken to be with Jesus! Yes, we’ll mourn here for a while and we’ll feel the loss, but we will see them again one day. And that is a guarantee. That guarantee should make our funerals more like birthday parties. Let us mourn the fact that our loved ones are no longer here with us physically, but celebrate what they have become and where they have gone; and let us envy them that they already get to go, while we’re stuck here on this dying world.