Tuesday, January 10, 2012

fear of dying and assurance in the face of death

Someone once told me that we are not scared of death. We are scared of dying—or at least the process of dying. Our bodies wear down. Illnesses come more frequently. Our dependence on others heightens, which may lead to some amount of discouragement. Having watched some relatives and acquaintances die, I am struck by how each one of them handled the anticipation. My grandpa on my mom’s side of the family said he was ready for the Lord to take him several years before his earthly life ended. Others I’ve known did not have a long time to wait between the diagnosis of terminal cancer and their body’s physical breakdown. We Christians stand in a unique position. It’s okay for us to be sad at the death of a loved-one. We have apprehensions about our family’s well-being upon our death—and I am not just talking about the amount of our life insurance policy. We care about people in our lives who would struggle emotionally and spiritually were we to die. We are in a unique position because of the hope that our Lord gives us by His resurrection from the dead. Death is not going to be our end. It will lead to our heavenly dwelling, not eternal punishment. We long to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:23-24), but we also rejoice in the opportunities our Lord grants us here and now to serve others. As unique as our perspective toward death is, so the cross of Christ uniquely reassures us of everlasting life. St. Athanasius says, “If, then, it is by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ that death is trampled underfoot, it is clear that it is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power. Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Savior and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.” (St. Athanasius, ON THE INCARNATION OF THE WORD, page 22) Let’s be honest. Dying is one of the realities we face when putting ourselves in some precarious—even enjoyable—positions. I am an avid traveler, often by air. One of the prayers I pray before each time the plane I’m on takes off is for the Lord’s protection and deliverance. If a mishap occurs or terrorism strikes, the likelihood of not reaching my intended destination runs high. Yet, I need not brace myself for every little bang or odd sound on board either. We who trust in Christ Jesus know that He holds our lives literally in His hands. In the event of tragedy here, He will deliver us to Himself. In the event of safe passage, He will give us enjoyment, ongoing sustenance in His Word, and opportunities to make Him known to others. AS our Lord has taken upon Himself the world’s sin and forgives personally all who trust in Him, His cross grants us joy and assurance that we are His now and in eternity.

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