Benjamin Franklin said that ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’, but although taxes can be avoided there is no way to avoid death. The opening words in the introductory voice-over of Star Trek are, ‘space; the final frontier’, but in real life it is death which is the final frontier.
Certainly, death lies as an all-consuming black hole at the event horizon of our earthly existence, but is it an end to life or simply a transition into a different dimension of life? To use Star Trek terminology, is the black hole of death really just a wormhole into another reality?
Humanist scientists and some religious folk regard death as the termination or life, but most spiritually oriented people believe that life is eternal and that what we call ‘death’ is just a doorway into something more. This is the Christian position for all except for a minority of theological systems that claim eternal life only for an elect few. Certainly, my understanding of the biblical revelation is that all human beings have eternal ‘life’ but that some pass through the transition of physical death into an eternity with God in Heaven, while others move from this earthly life into a dark and abysmal existence apart from God.
I can understand why those who suspect that death is THE final frontier would fear it and want to avoid thinking and speaking of it. However, to those ‘in Christ Jesus’ death signifies a transition into the nearer presence of our Saviour and Lord. Why then do so many ‘Christians’ avoid the subject of death?
Perhaps some folk just do not know that what Jesus said to Martha applies equally to them. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Perhaps they don’t know that He also said, ”I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). Could it be that they overlook what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:10 about ‘our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’?
It would be comforting to think that those Christians who fear death do so solely because of ignorance of the biblical revelation, but I don’t think that this is usually the case. I think that it is more likely that the problem arises from a deadly misconception of what constitutes a ‘Christian’. The words of hope that Jesus and Paul articulated are not for people who define themselves as Christians simply in terms of heritage, social categorisation, or reasonably ‘good’ lifestyle. Those who are born into a Christian orientated family are not necessarily assured of eternal life with Jesus. Nor are those who classify themselves as Christian because they are not Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and so on. Equally, those who attempt to live by Christian values may not necessarily be able to claim for themselves the assurance of divine favour in a life to come.
The Apostle Paul writes many times that in order to be assured of eternal life in the presence of God we must be ‘in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:23 and many other references). Jesus had previously appeared to him and commissioned him to go to people everywhere and “open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). Paul later expressed his personal desire to ‘gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:8-9).
To be assured of eternal life in the presence of God we need to be ‘in Christ Jesus’, and to be in Christ we need to have faith in Jesus to save us from an eternal life of separation from God. If we are in Christ then we need not fear death, and we do not need to avoid speaking of it or even preparing for it.
Fear of death is a strong indicator of the lack of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, the best thing we can do for those who fear death is to share the Gospel of life with them.