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I’m a Christian. Why Am I Still So Scared of Dying?

I’m a Christian. Why Am I Still So Scared of Dying?

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend that quickly reveals some truth about yourself you weren’t expecting?

I had one recently. My friend, David, recently lost his grandma, and it brought up a lot of thoughts about death and what comes next. He and I are both Bible-believing Christians who have confidently spoken about what our future in Heaven will be like. But faced with actual death, Aaron admitted that he was holding on to some fear about dying.

“It honestly just sounds terrifying,” he admitted to me, “and that makes me feel like I don’t really believe what I say I believe.”

As I was listening to him, I found myself nodding and thinking, “Yep, I’m afraid too.” And I bet a lot of people like he and I hold on to this fear, while also wondering if that fear is in direct opposition to our relationship with Jesus. So, let’s talk about it…

I think the conversation around the fear of death has less to do with fear, but more to do with how we define death. As I see it, there are three different definitions of death that each carry their own theology and psychological profile:

Death (1) – A singular moment where body function ceases and your physical life on earth has ended. Put more beautifully, “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

Death (2) – When we talk about death, oftentimes we’re really talking about dying, or the manner of death. This can include old age, disease, accident, or any number of other not-fun-to-talk-about options.

Death (3) – There is a kind of death described in Scripture as a sort of death of the soul, that is, a succumbing to sin or turning away from God. This is often referred to as spiritual death and is the death that we see used in verses like:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” (Colossians 2:13)

So, when you talk about being afraid of death, what definition of death are you using? My guess is that many of us fear and think more about the first or second definition, but are hung up on the third one. Because the third definition (and the accompanying verses) aren’t just warnings concerning the consequences of unchecked and unrepentant sin, but they are also beacons of hope. A hope that is found in a relationship with Jesus, which we have. This kind of spiritual death is no longer ours to fear.

Some Christians would argue that a fear of death is a lack of trust in God. Here’s the problem with that though, being afraid of leaving earth or being afraid of dying in an unpleasant way doesn’t indicate a lack of faith, it indicates a presence of humanity. Now I will say, a fear of spiritual death is a little concerning for someone who’s a follower of Jesus. And if you find yourself fearing this, I’d pray fervently and read everything you can about God’s love and grace. But outside of that, death, dying and our time ending on earth IS scary, even to Jesus:

“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them.“Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:32-35)

Now what was Jesus fearing here? Certaintly it was not His eternity, relationship with God, or purpose for dying. Jesus was afraid of the pain that was to come. He was afraid, like any human, of dying (definition No. 2). Additionally though — and I want to be cautious about reading too much into what Jesus is/isn’t thinking — but I wonder if there was a part of Him that was going to miss His friends, His family, and the community He had built? Maybe not, but that’s what makes me afraid of death.

We are put on this earth for a reason. If there was no reason, God wouldn’t have put us here. He doesn’t need us to hang out in this holding pen for 80+ years, there’s room in heaven. But God chose to put us here—and to live. Live abundantly, live gratefully, live justly, and live to accomplish the work of God. Am I afraid of the afterlife? No. But am I just human enough to not be able to fully comprehend heaven and, therefore, be afraid of saying goodbye to my sweet wife, daughters, friends, homebrewing, crisp fall air, laughing so hard I cry, happy little existence that I’ve eked out? Yes. Because this is the heaven I know — and I like getting to live in God’s creation.

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