The Last Enemy - Part 3
The Last Enemy III
Most people have the same types of fears when it comes to facing death: The fear of helplessness, of being alone, deserted, of being dead, but no one notices, of pain and suffering, of being a burden, of humiliation (losing control of bodily functions, etc..), of what will happen to projects, of separation from loved ones, of loved ones being left alone, fear of punishment, fear of impairment, of being unable to care for oneself, fear of the unknown, fear others will have to take care of me, fears associated with finances, and the fear of loss over emotional control, that is being unable to take it. In view of such fears, Christians have an important job in comforting fellow believers who are dying.
Words of Comfort
- Facing The Unknown: Jesus addressed with issue of the unknown and pointed out that comfort, peace, and security await the believer, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…that they may rest from their labors" (Revelation 14:13); "glory and honor and peace to every man who does good" (Romans 2:10); "but now he is being comforted here" (Luke 16:25).
- Loneliness: Jesus pointed out that when a believer dies, they are immediately comforted by angels, "it came about when the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom" (Luke 16:22). This answers the fear that some people have that of being simply left on this earth as a spiritual being and being forced to watch their loved ones grief, watch their funeral and so on and being completely unable to communicate with anyone. Far from being alone, upon death the believer finds himself with all the faithful of the ages, "and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23). Jesus said to the repentance thief, "Today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43), which infers that all the righteous are in the same place. When a Christian dies they are in a place where everyone has the same attitude, the same devotion, the same hope and the same love.
- Undone Projects: It’s so easy to forget that for the Christian death is the completion of the greatest project in their life. Priority number one for the believer is getting themselves to heaven first (Acts 2:40; Philippians 2:12 "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling"). Solomon said that the prime object for mankind was to "fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person" (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Even Christians can get caught up in thinking that all will be lost in some earthly project is not completed, but dying in a right relationship with God is the greatest thing that you can accomplish in this life. In addition, once you die you don’t have any control over even the earthly projects that you finished in this life. For example, evidently all the congregations established by Paul and the other apostles either ceased to exist or went into apostasy.
- Missing Out: There is the fear of being cut off, missing out on what happens here, of having to "sit on the bench" so to speak for the rest of time. But believers need to be reminded that much of what they will "miss out" on will be trials, suffering, and frustration. Being in Paradise doesn’t sound like a person is missing out on anything! In fact, one could say that while you are alive, that is when you are truly missing out. Paul noted, "For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain… having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better" (Philippians 1:21,23). Even Christians can forget that all the important and neat stuff isn’t happening in this earthly life, rather, far more exciting and wonderful things are happening already in the next life. Paul said that what awaits the faith is "glory, honor and peace" (Romans 2:10). In latter said, "For I consider that the sufferings of his present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). Yes, people who died a hundred years ago never saw computers, the internet, television, and sport utility vehicles, but would you rather see such things or being experiencing eternal bliss?
*What Will Happen To My Body: Thinking about one’s body decaying in the grave is not a pleasant thought. But Christians know that at death, they are released from the physical body, which is simply an earthly tent for the soul, "For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house" (2 Corinthians 5:1); "knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent" (2 Peter 1:14). Added to this, sometimes we are too attached to our earthly body. It is easy to forget that life in this body of flesh has not always been easy, "For indeed in this house we groan…we groan, being burdened" (2 Corinthians 5:2-4). This body, also has a number of serious limitations, and what believers will receive back at the resurrection is a body far superior to what went into the grave. "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). It is easy to forget that in a sense, our bodies are already decaying, "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying" (2 Corinthians 4:16). Therefore, this is a body which all of us should want to shed eventually. On a very practical level, we certainly do not want to remain in it when it really starts to fall apart.
- I Don’t Want to be a Burden: This is where family and brethren and really reassure such those dying that taking care of them is a privilege rather than a burden or grievous duty. Their illness or infirmity simply gives family members the chance to express their gratitude for all the years of service provided by the one who is dying. Paul said, "but if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family, and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God" (1 Timothy 5:4). There is nothing unpleasant about serving someone that you appreciate and love. Such service also provides a great example to the world of how Christianity makes our entire lives better, from good parents bringing lives into the world, to comforting and caring for loved ones who are exiting this life.
- The Fear of Losing Control: This is one reason why becoming a Christian answers or fixes so many potential problems. When we become a Christian, at that point God expects us to give our entire lives to Him, that is, to relinquish all control to Him, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). It’s hard to accept, but there are many things in this life that we can’t control, including the manner of our death, that is, where we will simply die in our sleep or whether or not we will have a long and lingering illness. This will be easier to accept, if before this time we have already accepted that many things are outside of our control, and even careful human planning cannot anticipate or take care of everything (Ecclesiastes 9:11). In addition, don’t expect the impossible of your human body. And there is nothing wrong with expressing grief and tears over the a deteriorating human body. Death isn’t something that godly people take with a casual attitude, "Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying, ‘Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Thy sight’. And Hezekiah wept bitterly" (2 Kings 20:2-3). Even Jesus did not approach death in a cold or stoic manner, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death" (Matthew 26:38); "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39); "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.." (Hebrews 12:2). This last statement remains us that before we die, as Christians we do have one last and final act of submission or obedience, that is, to accept whatever circumstances that surround our death.
- Pain and Suffering: Both can be intense, the good news is that both are temporary, "For momentary, light affliction" (2 Corinthians4:17). The Bible doesn’t deny the reality of pain, hence we don’t have to pretend that we are feeling good. In addition, pain can become a great ally, that is, it can make you realize that fleeing this physical body isn’t a terrible thing, rather, it can be quite a blessing.
- The Fear of a loss of Being: Contrary to the views of many Eastern religious systems, at death the child of God doesn’t lose his or her identity. In Luke 16, even after death Lazarus and the former rich man still remained distinct individuals, as did Abraham. We will continue to exist as distinct individuals. In fact, the concept that God will judge us based on what we did or didn’t do (2 Corinthians 5:10), rests on the truth that death only is the end of the body and the spirit that inhabited body still remains a distinct individual who is then rewarded or punished.
- Grieving Loved Ones: They will certainly grieve, but what can give them tremendous comfort is the fact that we were faithful, hence our death becomes only a temporary absence. We will see them again, in a place where there are no more tears or separations (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 21:4).
- Financial Considerations: Now is the time to address this fear, you can do things right now to see to it that your loved ones are properly cared for in the event of your death, even if it is an early death. In addition, remember that God will still be with your loved ones, He will see to it that they are taken care of, "Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants begging bread" (Psalm 37:25).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/(503)644-9017