“I’m afraid to die.” I’ve heard this comment from more than one older person. And all are professing Christians.
What is going on? Christians have an abiding belief in life after death. We’re taught from our earliest memory that if we accept Christ we’re saved from going to hell. Scriptures are full of warning about our eternal destiny if we don’t profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Are our elders just forgetful?
We believe when we pass from this earth, our destiny lies in one of two places; Heaven or hell. Because we’ve confessed our sins, we pass ‘from death unto life.’ So why should dying scare a professing Christian?
My elderly mother has been a believer for more than forty years. She’s told me many times she is confident she’s saved by the blood of Jesus. Yet, when she looks closely at the end of her life, which is arriving at alarming speed, she’s terrified.
What if I’m wrong? This is her inner fear.
We only know about heaven by what’s written in the Bible. There are no testimonies in Scripture by someone who’s died and come back to life. The Bible is silent about what Lazarus experienced when he was dead for three days. What the little girl saw or felt who Jesus raised from her deathbed isn’t recorded either. And the popularity of so many true-accounts-of-heaven stories tells me we’re dying to know what’s on the other side.
Jesus gives us only a vague understanding when he says, “In my father’s house are many mansions.” The rest of his descriptions are equally unspecific.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind” Matthew 13:47.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants” Matthew 18:23.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard” Matthew 20:1.
Huh? He doesn’t seem to be talking about a place at all, but an ideal. The Gospels are filled with admonitions. We’re told to lay up treasures in Heaven, not on Earth. Jesus tells us to be like little children. To forgive one another. I’ve read these verses over and over, yet the lack of specific detail about what is to come leaves me wondering.
Have I done enough?
Did I love my brother/sister/neighbor as Christ did?
Is Heaven going to be everything I hope it will be?
Have I really placed my trust in Jesus as my savior?
The Fear Behind the Fear
My friend Greg’s mom, Alene, and I discussed dying. It’s something she thinks about, now that she’s in her eighth decade.
“I’m not so much afraid about eternity. I guess I’m scared about the actual event of dying. Will it hurt? Will I struggle to breathe or have pain?” She wonders about the moment between life and death. As with all of us, Alene hopes to go to sleep one night and not wake up.
Betty echoed Alene’s words. “I’m afraid of the unknown. And I don’t want to die from some disease which will waste my body and steal my mind.” At ninety-five, Betty thinks about death a lot. She’s buried three children and a husband, and most days, longs to see them again.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolations also abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NKJV)
When I read those words, I am assured of two things. First, we will experience suffering. Second, we have a Comforter. Like Alene and Betty, I don’t like the idea of “the sufferings of Christ” abounding in me. I watched my son suffer through terminal cancer. It’s a terrible way to die. I was with my father when he passed away, gagging and struggling to breathe as his lungs filled with fluid.
That’s the real fear. We want assurance we’ll pass peacefully into eternity, falling asleep and waking up in Heaven.
Karl Pillmer, PhD, recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post. He interviewed 1200 people in their 80s, 90s, and older. “As you might expect, deeply religious elders found their beliefs to be comforting as they contemplated the end of life. Rosemary Brewster, ninety, is a regular churchgoer and has been all her life. When asked, “Do you believe in life after death?” she replied: “I often wonder about that. I think and I wonder if there really is. And I’m going to find out. I wouldn’t bother worrying about it too much, because I’m going to find out.” Rosemary pointed out that her feelings had changed greatly in later life.”
What do you believe about life after death?
 Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D. Professor of Human Development, Cornell University; Author, “30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage” Why Should Anyone Be Afraid Of Dying? Jan 23, 2014 Huff Post – The Third Metric