Are You Ready? – A Look at Preparing for Death
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director of Christian Life Resources
At the pinnacle of his career, Apple CEO Steve Jobs received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. As the cancer slowly robbed him of his health, Jobs spoke about his impending death at a 2005 Stanford University commencement ceremony:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
There is something about a diagnosis of terminal death that annihilates the clutter and brings a person face to face with his own very real mortality. While Steve Jobs used the occasion to inspire the Stanford graduates, his rejection of the Christian faith left him with more questions than answers.
Steve Jobs died at the age of 56 on October 5, 2011. His death raises the question: “Are you ready?”
A seminary professor once told his students, “Sometimes I can hardly wait to die, and sometimes I am scared to death to die.” This tension between the old and new man is what the Apostle Paul talked about in Galatians 5:17 and Romans 7:22-25.
It is the tension experienced by the father who said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). On this side of heaven, fear and doubt are part of our sinful natures. In general there are three reasons why people are afraid of death:
Reason # 1: Uncertainty About What Lies Beyond
Historically “true Christians” are viewed by the world as “Christimitators”: loving, compassionate and sacrificial people. That is also why there is little toleration for flawed Christians – who are often referred to as hypocrites.
In reality, true Christians are characterized first by their faith. They acknowledge their sinfulness, are embarrassed that they fail to rightly imitate Christ, and cling stubbornly to Jesus as their Savior from sin.
Left in sin none of us would be “good enough” to get into heaven. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Even the best among us are not pure enough to deserve eternal life in heaven after we die (James 2:10). Rather, we believe that He who had no sin (Jesus) became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:41). He paid the complete price for sin. That is why we know where we are going when we die, because death holds no sting for us (1 Corinthians 15:35-58).
But even Christians doubt on occasion. God’s ways are beyond our understanding (Isaiah 55:8,9) yet we are lured into thinking dead bodies cannot come back to life (Job 19:25,26). We might also think that Judgment Day must be a myth since it has not yet taken place (2 Peter 3:3-10).
We are saved by faith. It is the inexplicable conviction (Hebrews 11:1) that Jesus died for our sins and, because He saved us, death not only loses its sting but life in heaven is assured! There is nothing to fear. Our sins are forgiven through Christ. Heaven belongs to each of us!
Reason # 2: Worry About the Path That Leads to Death
This is a very popular fear among both Christians and non-Christians. A century ago most people died unexpected and sudden deaths. With today’s improved health care and a more educated public we live longer and often face lingering deaths. Unlike our forefathers who generally suffered fatal heart attacks or strokes in the prime of their lives, people live longer today.
Fear of the diminishing nature of the quality of life causes some people to consider shortening their time on earth. They find no value in continued feeding and care of those who cannot contribute to others and/or society. Yet, despite a diminished quality of life, a person becomes an outlet for the faith of others by serving as God’s instruments to train others in the practice of selfless love.
Rather than looking for ways to escape the challenges of aging and dying, Christians can see in the dying process an opportunity to mend relationships. It also gives people the occasion to put their faith into action through acts of love and concern (1 Timothy 5:8; 1 John 3:18).
Reason # 3: Concern for Those Left Behind
Even the strongest Christian can hold out one lingering fear about the prospect of facing death: concern for those left behind.
By far the most common fear people express at the prospect of their own death centers on those they will leave behind. Sometimes family members become deeply dependent on us. The question becomes, “Who will care for my loved ones?”
The answer is simple, but the reality is much harder. When it came into existence, the early New Testament church assumed the role for the care of the widows and orphans (Acts 6). The congregations of believers were called on to care for the needs of all people, especially those in their households (1 Timothy 5:8) as well as their fellow Christians (Galatians 6:10).
In this regard Christian families and Christian congregations are given premier opportunities to step forward to demonstrate care and concern for families of dying members. The consistency and determination to care for others should be so obvious that those facing death realize – under God’s providential care and through His servants – the family will be fine.
In this world of sin many temptations can compromise our readiness to die. Those temptations invite doubts and fears. But our God is perfect. He is not hindered by the unreliability of our sinful nature. When tempted to doubt and fear, take heart! Our God is a great God who brings life in the face of death!
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