Why You Should Think about Death

Most of us have probably heard the phrase “death rate” more in the past month than at any other point in our lives. In the midst of a virus pandemic tracking the death rate—how many people infected with the virus actually die—is an important statistic.

But let’s not forget the ultimate human death rate: 100%.

For each of us, death is both imminent and unpredictable. The current virus outbreak is leading to more obituaries of elderly people. But younger and middle-aged people also continue to die. Some expected to die; others were blindsided. Tragically, many people are simply not prepared to die.

Young Jane Eyre was asked how one must face the reality of our mortality. “I deliberated a moment. My answer when it did come was objectionable. ‘I must keep in good health and not die.’” Objectionable indeed. And silly. And tragic. [MOU1] Still, how many people are like Jane, trying to prevent death rather than prepare for the life to come with true godliness (1 Tim. 4:8). How can we prepare for death so that our deaths will not be an eternal punishment for our sin, “but only a dying to sin and an entering into eternal life”[1](John 5:24; Phil. 1:23; Rom. 7:24–25).

Entrust yourself to Christ.

No one is ready to die who is not entrusting their eternity to the eternal Son of God. The only way to die well is to become “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3) so that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection become yours. In his death Christ has borne for us the wrath of God against our sin (Heb. 2:9). He was raised to “overcome death . . . make us partakers of the righteousness which He has obtained for us by his death,” raise us up to a new life, and offer a “sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.”[footnote: HC 45] God graciously offers us the eternal life we forfeited by our union with Adam (original sin), and by our actual transgressions. We can receive God’s gift “and make it [our] own in no other way than by faith only” (1 John 5:10).[2]

Invest in eternity.

Economists—armed with striking compound-interest graphs—tirelessly urge us to start investing for the golden years early. Still, too many people enter old age woefully, financially unprepared. Similarly, too few people value Jesus’s admonition to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20). John Piper reflects on Jesus’s words:

Evidently there are two ways to live: you can live with a view to accumulating valuable things on earth, or you can live with a view to accumulating valuable things in heaven. Jesus says: the mark of a Christian is that his eyes are on heaven and he measures all his behavior by what effect it will have on heaven—everlasting joy with God.[3]

Those who commit to investing in eternity—by beginning as soon as possible, working hard, and finishing well—by God’s grace, store up much treasure in heaven.

Meditate on death.

Macabre meditation can be unhealthy. But it doesn’t have to be. As evidence, and as a pattern for our reflection, Scripture frequently speaks of death. The words death, dead, and die—recorded more than one thousand times—occur more often than life, alive, and live. God laments his people’s lack of thought on ultimate things: “Oh, that they were wise, that they would understand this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deut. 32:29). Moses understood and asked God to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). In Psalm 39 David sang,

Make me, O Lord, to know my end,

Teach me the measure of my days,

That I may know how frail I am

And turn from pride and sinful ways.

Likewise, Christian hymns teach us to find in Christ’s presence hope for life and death. The death-conscious believer prays that God would “hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes.”[4] 

Hymns can help us trust God to shepherd us even though He leads us to death:

And when at last my race is run,

The Savior’s work in me is done,

E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,

Since God through Jordan leadeth me.[5]

They help us process the inevitable—one day we will all long to be reclothed with immortality:

When in dust and ashes to the grave I sink,

When heav’n’s glory flashes o’er the shelving brink,

On thy truth relying through that mortal strife,

Lord, receive me, dying, to eternal life. [6]

Modern reluctance to think, talk, and sing about death could signify a superstitious attitude about, an unpreparedness for, and an unhealthy fear of death. Better to say with Jacob (Gen. 48:21) and Joseph (50:24), “I am dying.” The current pandemic is a sobering reminder of the sting of death. Let’s use it to prepare to meet our own end secure in Jesus who gives us victory over death (1 Cor. 15:56–57).

Adapted from William Boekestein, The Future of Everything: Essential Truths about the End Times. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019. Used by permission.

Notes

  1. ^ Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 42.
  2. ^ Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 61.
  3. ^ John Piper, “Don’t Be Anxious, Lay up Treasure in Heaven, Part 1,” Desiring God (blog), March 2, 2003, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/dont-be-anxious-lay-up-treasure-in-heaven-part-1.
  4. ^  Abide with Me in Trinity Psalter Hymnal (Suwanee, GA: Great Commission Publications, 1990), song 159.
  5. ^ He Leadeth Me in Trinity Psalter Hymnal (Suwanee, GA: Great Commission Publications, 1990), song 600.
  6. ^ In the Hour of Trial, Jesus, Plead for Me in Trinity Hymnal (Suwanee, GA: Great Commission Publications, 1990), song 568.

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