Living and breathing are two vital topics. You and I want to spend a long time on this earth. We want to stay alive and enjoy a good life to the best of our ability. That goes without saying. What does it actually mean to enjoy life?
There are many answers to that and everyone has their own response. It may be connecting with your family, having a happy marriage or having a job that is highly fulfilling. It also may mean having deep religious convictions that make each day an adventure. Or going on an exotic holiday to the other side of the world—others say enjoying life just means being thankful for every moment you have and making an effort to make the most of each and every minute. Others say it means to enjoy yourself, to enjoy who you are. After all there is only one of you in the world—you are unique.
So if life is good, does that mean death is bad? A fair enough question. I have a feeling most of us would prefer not to think or talk about death. Why mention dying? Isn’t life for living? Yes, it is, but let’s face facts. You and I are going to die one day. We may refer to this act as ‘passing on’ or ‘passing away’. But this is preferable to saying, “My friend died from cancer last week”.
It’s a jarring and shocking statement with a jolt of reality about it. We probably don’t like it very much. Too confrontational—‘passed away’ is more gentle. We are constantly aware that the clock is ticking towards our death and this can suck the joy out of life. Most people live as if there is no life after death and so we scramble around to get everything we can get out of life.
A Universal Fear of Death
I am sure we are afraid of death. But there is more to this topic. We sometimes only get half the message. The great battle of Waterloo in June 1815 in Belgium was a battle between the English Army led by the Duke of Wellington and the French Army led by Napoleon, who wanted to rule the world. The outcome would determine the fate of Europe.
When the battle finally ended, light signals began to send word of the English victory back across the English Channel. Yet a heavy fog rolled in quickly, so only the first two words of the message were received, “Wellington defeated…” Further communication was impossible. Hours later, when the fog finally lifted, the message was completed: “Wellington defeated the enemy.” Two words missing made all the difference.
In the teachings of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ has defeated the sting of death. That means: yes, life is good, but death need not be bad. Norman Vincent Peale, a famous preacher who continued to preach well into his 90s, used to tell a story about his father, who died at 85 after a distinguished career as a physician and minister. He had struggled his whole life, despite his deep and abiding faith, against a very real fear of death. Not long after he died, Norman’s stepmother dreamed he came to her and told her his fears had been groundless. “Don’t worry about dying,” he said to her. “There’s nothing to it.” The dream was so vivid that she woke up overwhelmed.
In 1973 Ernest Becker wrote his classic The Denial of Death, still quoted and widely read today. Although it wasn’t until the end of his life that he believed in God and said, “I think it’s very hard for secular men to die”. Christianity has great answers to this problem of death and the life after death.
Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book titled On Death and Dying, in which she describes the steps a dying person goes through before death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. To these steps a Christian would add one final most important step: belief in the transformation and transfiguration of death by Jesus Christ. He defeated the power and sting of death by his death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead.
There is tremendous clarity in the Bible that explains death is not bad. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:1: “We know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.”