Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Death & Dying From A Christian Perspective

Two unrelated events occurred together and ended up making a strange connection in my mind. The first event was the death of my sister in law's husband. Two years ago he was healthy. He had every reason to believe he'd live another twenty years or more. In the course of eighteen months took away his good health, and then his life.

The second event paired with this death is all the decorations I see in the stores for Halloween. There are many masks and other items that make death and dying look very gruesome. These images aren't limited to Halloween. If you turn on the TV and watch any Detective show you'll see many gruesome images of death, murder and mayhem. According to the University of Michigan Health System, by the time a child is 18 they will have seen 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders. I can't help but wonder how these experiences shape and influence our thoughts and fears related to death and dying”

As I've entered the sixth decade of my life I've experienced the loss of Grandparents, Parents, Aunts, Uncles, and friends. Some of those deaths were sudden and unexpected. Others were long and drawn out involving a significant amount of medical care and pain.

When I evaluate the source of my fears, it isn't about dying. It's much more to do with the process which I've witnessed too many times. Far too often dying involves a long, drawn out period of time filled with pain and the humiliation of the loss of body functions like urinary or bowel control. I've always appreciated a quote attributed to Woody Allen who said, “I don't mind dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens.” Neither do I.

There are some very specific verses in the Bible, which shapes my thoughts about death in a very positive way. In fact I wouldn't want to face the prospect of dying without this knowledge, beliefs and faith.

To the thief on the cross next to Jesus, Jesus said to him in Luke 23:42-43
Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

That's an amazing promise, on the day of your death, if you believe Jesus is your Lord and Savior you are with Him in Paradise. Paul tells us this journey happens in the blink of an eye when he writes in 2 Cor 5:8
We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

I like the immediacy of the promise. Death is the beginning of a journey. The Bible distinguishes between our Spirit which never dies and our body which does. According to the Bible the separation from our body is temporary because there will come a day in which our spirit will inhabit a new body which is both incorruptible and immortal.

In 1 Cor 15:53-55 Paul describes this process very clearly.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"  

Halloween presents images of death and dying that are in direct contrast to the Biblical images of death. I find it difficult to break free of the cultural images of death. For me to do this it involves spending more time focusing my attention on the Biblical passages about death and dying. How about you? What's a greater influence on your life, is it the cultural images of death and dying or the Biblical images and promises about death and dying?

As a man in his sixties, also diagnosed with prostate cancer, I've long past the time of "youth's universal illusion of immortality" Sooner than later I will face the prospect of dying.

 I'm grateful to and comforted by Paul who immersed himself in this topic and concluded with a victorious shout “O Death, where is your sting” and to the one who defeated death, Jesus Christ.

If you are someone you love is dying of cancer, visit my website. While it's main focus is coping with life before and after prostate surgery, there are also helpful links to anyone who is facing death as a result of cancer. Here's the link:
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