What’s so good about dying?
When I was a boy, my father would often talk to me about the realities of life. One of his favourite lines was, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but not everybody wants to die.”
He taught me not to be afraid of death, but to embrace it as a necessary step towards heaven; meanwhile, we should make our days on earth count. By observing my father, I learnt that there was a purpose to life on earth and that our post-death destination is glorious if we truly know Jesus.
Growing up in multicultural Singapore, I came to realise that such a view is uncommon — perhaps it might even be a uniquely Christian one. Some of my friends are afraid of death; they do not talk about it because it is suay or brings bad luck. Some of my friends are afraid of dying; they do not know what would happen to them after they die. Some others do not bother because death is far beyond the horizon.
I’ve often considered what it means to “die well.” In my view, one’s estate and legacy should be in order: no debilitating debt that your family has to bear, good relationships with your family members and friends, and having lived a life of purpose. This would enable those who are survived by you to remember you fondly and to adequately move on with life.
Of course, when someone we know passes on, it is only human to feel a weighty ache in our hearts. We might feel a sense of injustice, with questions swarming in our minds: Why couldn’t he live longer? Why didn’t he recover from this bout of illness? Why did he have to die this way? While we might mourn the dead differently according to our culture or religion, the sense of loss that accompanies death seems to be a universal human experience.
We all will die one day, but the truth is that death is not natural. From Creation, we were not meant to die — we were meant to live forever in communion with God (Romans 5:19).
It is only because sin entered the world that death became the standard conclusion for our physical life on earth (Romans 5:12). So our universal discomfort with death stems from an innate dissent against the reality of death. Bereavement is almost always coupled with deep mourning.
Yet, as Christians, I believe that we have a unique way of dealing with the trauma that death brings. We rally together in our spiritual communities to celebrate the hope we have in death.
When my grandfather passed away last year, my immediate family’s church community came together to envelop us with their love and concern. We stood together in solidarity during my family’s period of grief. They visited us at the wake and prayed together with us for comfort and peace. We reminisced about my grandfather’s life and talked about the illness he eventually succumbed to — these conversations helped us to process the grief that we were feeling.
The sense of community my immediate family experienced was noticeably different from that of my non-believing relatives. It seemed like the funeral rites took priority over other concerns.
Having a different worldview from them, I respected their way of bereavement. However, it made me appreciate — to a greater degree — the spiritual community my immediate family benefited from. We had more visitors than our other relatives and their presence demonstrated their compassionate support in our period of grief. It was so uplifting to experience members of the Body of Christ coming together to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV).
Hope in death
My grandfather received Jesus into his life barely a week before he died — after decades of hard-heartedness! Given the lateness of his conversion, our family proceeded with a traditional funeral.
Yet, in the hearts of my believing family members, there was a palpable sense of joy and hope. We were saddened that my grandfather fell victim to his ailments, but we were also rejoicing inside because of his salvation.
For those of us who believe, death is not simply the cessation of life; instead, death is the start of a glorious deepening of the communion we already share with God. We do not “grieve like people with no hope” because we “know what will happen to the believers” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NLT) — that we will be raised to life again to be with Jesus when He returns (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
As believers in Jesus, we are not afraid of death because it is the gateway to life with Jesus — our eternal treasure. In death, our dying bodies will be swallowed up by life as we put on our new bodies (2 Corinthians 5:4). The unique hope that we have in Jesus Christ is the assurance of living with Him forever!
However, there are those who still do not have this hope. Paul exhorted the Corinthians, saying, “…we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!'” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT).
We have been charged with the ministry of reconciling man to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18) and our understanding of eternity should enable us to live unafraid of the future and with hope in every situation. May we “(always) be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (us) to give the reason for the hope that (we) have” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). This could mean sharing about our perspective on death in our conversations. Imagine the impact Christians will make if we were to live out our conviction that death is not something to be feared, and that there is more to life than this world.