On the Art of Dying Well

A friend of mine is dying.  She has been diagnosed with a relentless terminal disease that will likely take her life in the next three to four years.  She recently wrote the following very poignant words to me:

I believe people will follow our grief to get to Jesus.   They will watch . . . and they will look to see if the God we preached on our best day can sustain us on the hardest one.  Many people cannot relate to outrageous success, but they can relate to tears and brokenness and sorrow.  We all suffer, but those who know Christ should suffer with hope so that a watching world can see that He is a very present help in times of trouble.  My prayer—and I ask you to pray with me to this end—is that I will be able to share Christ as long as I am on this earth and bring Him honor and glory.

The courage and faith in God she has shown in the face of inevitable death has been a deep source of both inspiration and conviction.  Her faith is inspiring because it challenges me to hope in God no matter how short or long God gives me on this earth.  But it is also convicting because I find as I honestly look deep inside, I detect an underlying and abiding sense of fear.  I fear that death might be the end of my existence.

I fear that I have given my heart, soul, mind, and strength to a myth that is ultimately untrue and only wish-fulfillment.  I fear that in the end I will not face death with the kind of urgent hope and faith that I see so clearly in my friend.

I think that facing death in an instant requires very little of the one dying.  Dying suddenly means that there is little to anticipate or think about.  There is no time to contemplate, reflect, or consider what death will be like.  And there is no need to traverse the agony and angst that represents the encroaching face of death that all who know they are dying must encounter and stare back at unflinchingly.  But those who know their time on this earth is quickly coming to a close have much to think about and many decision to make.  The ones like my friend who do this well beautifully demonstrate the unfailing hope we have in Jesus.

Why do we fear death, even as Christians?  Why does it seem to bother us so much?  I suspect it has something to do with the tragic fact that human death was not part of God’s original design.  We were made to live without the prospect of death, but sin took that all away.  And until our Lord returns, fully redeeming creation, we live in a culture of death.  It is a culture that outside of Enoch and Elijah none have escaped.  Even Jesus had to die, although through His dying, death was finally defeated.  He rose from the grave and gave us the hope of heaven in a way we had never dreamed of or imagined before.

Perhaps fear remains, but what is faith and courage without a measure of fear?  And our fear is not crippling or overwhelming.  Rather, it calls us to recall the undying hope we have in Jesus Christ.  Death will come to us all, but those of us who know that we are dying and dying soon can face that grave specter with an indescribable sense of confidence that death is not the end.  Instead, it is a glorious and magnificent new beginning where we are finally in the full and unimpeded presence of the one who loves and died for us, the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

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