While on vacation this summer, I helped my parents put new siding on their house. The worst part was the chase around the chimney. It was (of course) on the tall side of the house, and it intersected with the roofline. So I was standing on three levels of scaffolding, swaying in the wind, and fiddling with small pieces of siding, fascia, and shingle. I gave any attention I could spare to the task of not falling off. It was mentally exhausting.
It’s not that I was completely terrified as I contemplated death. And I wasn’t questioning my eternal salvation. But every time the platform wobbled or a gust of wind came up, my natural reaction was to avoid death. There was even a certain degree of fear.
One of my dad’s pastor friends came and offered to help. He said, “I’ll do anything you want. I’m not afraid to die.” I was already mildly annoyed, so I said what I thought: “Everyone’s at least a little bit afraid to die.” He said, “But Christians should never be afraid to die.” I’ve long been bothered when other pastors show a trite attitude toward death. So I argued my case. A healthy fear of death (you can call it “respect” if you want) protects life.
God created life. He did not create death. He knit our bodies and spirits together. His perfect and eternal will is not for them to be separated. Life is good. Death is bad.
There’s a problem with saying, “Christians should never be afraid of death.” It creates guilt on top of fear. I wonder how often Christians die in fear because they’re afraid to admit to their pastor that they’re afraid. Will he think I’m a weak Christian if I tell him I’m afraid? It’s better to say, “Christians need not fear death.” It’s okay to be afraid, but you don’t have to be afraid. Jesus has defeated death by his own death. Then he proved his victory by his own resurrection. Christians need not fear death.
There’s always some fear when you face something unknown. And death is something you only experience once. So even if we have confidence in Christ’s redemption, there’s that element of the unknown while we live on this side of the grave. We’ve heard about the resurrection. We have solid reasons to believe it to be true. But we just haven’t seen it yet.
It’s like when you fix something. You always finish by testing it. It could be as simple as changing a light bulb. You may have complete confidence that the bulb will work, but no one leaves the switch off and walks away. You believe it when you see it. Now up the stakes by a bizillion. We all fear death, simply because we haven’t been through it yet. But we have a Savior who has, and he has done it for our sake.
So you can admit your fear. I promise not to shame you for it. It’s natural. Instead, I will tell you what your Savior has done to take away our fears. He suffered and died for us. He has passed through death and into life. He is with us and will continue to be with us to bring us through it as well.
The peace of Christ be with you all,