I’ve seen a lot of different reactions to dying. Some people, usually the young, are afraid of it. Others, usually the elderly and ill, look forward to it. Both reactions are found in the Bible.
The author of Hebrews refers to the death of Christ in these words, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (2:14-15). A fear of death and lifelong slavery describes a lot of people.
On the other hand, in describing the martyrdom of Stephen, Luke writes, “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God . . . And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:55-60). This sounds like somebody ready to roll.
While I can’t prove it, I imagine most people react differently to death during different stages of life. Another factor is the victim. Family member or stranger? Friend or foe? No two are alike.
On June 17, 1963, C. S. Lewis wrote to a friend who was suffering terribly in health with a perceived possibility of dying. He responds,
“Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well? Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hair-shirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”1
Lewis poses two thoughtful questions and a great promise for the future. May we reflect on each with due reverence.
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” – 1 Corinthians 15:56.
- Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, Vol. III (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 1430.