The Bible contains hundreds of references to death. It is a formidable foe: “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26); but also a conquered foe: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
Jesus Christ has changed the meaning of death, as Scripture amply shows. At death, the spirit of the believing Christian enters immediately into the presence of the Lord. Physical death is but a transition from life on earth with Christ to life in heaven with Christ. Death does not alter the continuity
of relationship; it only enriches it.
“To be with Christ is far better,” says Paul (see Philippians 1:23); and he confirms that the transition to that new state is immediate: “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
The Bible teaches that someday the “dead in Christ” are going to be resurrected, at which time we shall be given new bodies. We don’t know exactly what these new bodies will be, except that they will be spiritual, permanent, and glorious: “And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49, NIV). “But we know that when [Christ] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2; see also 1 Corinthians 15:51–58).
At the second coming of the Lord Jesus, the believing dead will be resurrected and joined immediately to Him: “The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).
We have hope beyond the grave! “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19, NIV).
The reuniting of living believers with those who have died before the coming of our Lord is part of the “blessed hope” Christians look forward to (Titus 2:13).
The Christian should be able to confront death realistically yet victoriously. Though inevitable and often unexpected, death should never catch us completely off guard. Death should never be a “great unknown” that produces fear and terror; it should be, rather, the moment when we no longer see “in a mirror, dimly” but “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
1. If the inquirer is a Christian, bear in mind that preparing for death, or enduring bereavement, brings changes and adjustments. Try to be considerate and understanding: “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). As you share Scriptures from the “Background,” suggest that they be noted and later reviewed and possibly memorized for added strength and encouragement. Seek to guide the person to a new commitment and devotion to Christ. If there is any uncertainty about his or her relationship with Christ, Share Christian Biblical Counsel: STEPS TO PEACE WITH GOD.
2. If the inquirer is not a Christian, emphasize that to be properly prepared for death a person must make the all-important decision about his or her eternal relationship during this lifetime. Invite him or her to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Share Christian Biblical Counsel: STEPS TO PEACE WITH GOD.
3. Encourage reading and studying the Bible and cultivating habits of prayer.
4. Recommend becoming involved in a Bible-teaching church for fellowship, worship, and Bible study. This will also help the person to be constantly reassured as to the eternal hope that is ours as Christians.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1–3).
“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9–10).
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21, NIV).
See also Grief and Bereavement
The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook; World Wide Publications, 1984, 1996
Death, Eternal Life
In the case of the death of a child, see also Children.
1. You can face death without fear.
Ps. 23:4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
2. The believer will dwell in God’s house forever.
Ps. 23:6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
3. To live is Christ; to die is gain.
Phil. 1:21. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
4. Paul wanted both to remain here, and to go home to be with the Lord, which is far better.
Phil. 1:23. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
5. The death of the Lord’s saints is precious.
Ps. 116:15. Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His saints.
6. Those who die in the Lord are blessed.
Rev. 14:13. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”
7. You can have comfort concerning those who have died and are asleep in Jesus.
1 Thess. 4:13–18.
8. Believers who have died are absent from the body, but at home with the Lord.
2 Cor. 5:1–8. (our heavenly dwellings)
2 Cor. 5:6–8. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
9. In life and death we are the Lord’s.
Rom. 14:8. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
10. Believers go to the Father’s house to be with him.
John 14:1–4. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
11. Jesus comforted Mary and Martha after Lazarus died. He is the resurrection and the life.
John 11:23–26. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
12. The perishable will put on the imperishable; death will be swallowed up in victory.
1 Cor. 15:50–57. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
13. Believers are co-heirs with Christ.
Rom. 8:16–17. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
14. Nothing—not even death—can separate us from the love of God.
Rom. 8:38–39. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
15. When David’s infant son died, he was comforted by the knowledge that one day he would go to him.
2 Sam. 12:18–23.
2 Sam. 12:23. “But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
16. Jesus, the good shepherd, laid down his life for his sheep.
John 10:14–15. “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
17. Jesus’ sheep hear his voice and follow him, and he gives them eternal life. No one can snatch them out of his hand.
John 10:27–30. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”
18. There will be a new heaven and a new earth in which there will be no more suffering or sorrowing.
Rev. 21:1–4. Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
19. Jesus died so that we may live forever with him. Encourage one another with this truth.
1 Thess. 5:9–11. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
20. All who believe in Jesus will have eternal life.
John 3:14–15. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 3:36. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
1 John 5:11–12. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
21. When Jesus comes again, he will separate the sheep from the goats.
Matt. 25:31–34. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:’ ”
Matt. 25:41. “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:’ ”
Matt. 25:46. “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Doorway to Your Eternal Destiny
by June Hunt
Remember being in elementary school and “living” for the day when you would be in high school? Then in high school, you yearned in your heart for the freedom and independence of college life, a full-time job or the day when you would be master of your own home. Whatever your situation is in life, a cloud of discontent may always seem to hang over the present, a cloud that prevents attainment of your deepest desires. Actually, such an experience is universal, for God has made us with the capacity to find lasting contentment only in a personal relationship with Him. We can begin the process now, but death is that final doorway to our eternal destination, and only in heaven will that longing in your heart be fulfilled.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Death is not a popular subject for casual discussion or academic debate. We’re bombarded with information about how to lose weight, make more money or prepare for a potential disaster, but facing the reality of death is a subject most of us tend to avoid. Can you afford to ignore the eternal consequences of this ultimate reality? Are you prepared for the final certainty of death?
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die.”
A. What Is the Medical Perspective of Death?
Death is the end of physical life, characterized by a permanent cessation of all vital bodily functions.
• Clinical death
Clinical death is a condition of the body in which the heart has stopped beating, blood pressure is unreadable and the body temperature drops.
• Brain death
Brain death is a condition of the body in which no part of the brain functions. The brain stem is dead; therefore, there is no hope of restoration. The body can be maintained artificially for only hours or, at the most, a few days until the heart stops.
• Cognitive death
Cognitive death is a persistent vegetative state of the body in which intellect, memory, speech and awareness of self and the environment is lost. Only part of the brain is destroyed, not the brain stem. A person in a persistent vegetative state is capable of reflex functions such as breathing, sleeping and digesting food, but is not capable of thought or awareness.
B. What Is the Biblical Perspective of Death?
Death Is …
• The separation of the spirit and soul from the present physical body
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:26)
• Inevitable for everyone
“What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave?” (Psalm 89:48)
• Determined by God
“Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)
• The doorway to your eternal destiny
“Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
• The last enemy to be destroyed
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26)
• The result of sin … violating God’s will
“Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—for before the law was given, sin was in the world.” (Romans 5:12–13)
• The price Jesus paid to provide eternal life to all who place their confidence in Him
“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)
• To be regarded positively by Christians
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:54)
Death Is Not …
• Rebirth into another life form through Reincarnation (Hinduism)
“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27–28)
• An unconscious state of the soul (Intellectualism)
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)
• Being absorbed into the “cosmic consciousness” (Buddhism)
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–52)
• The doorway to eternal bliss for everyone (Liberalism)
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)
• The end of our existence (Atheism)
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14)
C. What about Heaven and Hell?
There are some who say that this life is all there is … that when people die, they cease to exist. However, the Bible states clearly that we are created in God’s image, a part of which is an eternal nature that survives death.
Others engage in a theological wishful thinking that a “loving God” would somehow negate the righteous demands of His law, ignore the willful sin of humankind and allow every person entrance into His eternal kingdom. Again, the Bible is clear: the wages of sin is death. That’s not just the ceasing of a bodily existence in time—it is separation from God throughout all time.
So, you have only two alternatives: eternity in heaven or eternity in hell.
Hell Is …
• A place of separation from the person and the love of God.
Hell is a place of eternal regret for the willful failure to receive the gift of God’s salvation through Christ Jesus and thus never to experience fellowship with Him. Jesus is described as the divine King …
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ ” (Matthew 25:41)
• A place of Eternal punishment for the failure to achieve the standard of God’s righteousness and holiness. Hell is a place of physical, emotional and spiritual torture. It is a place of fire without light, a place of eternal darkness.
“The smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:11)
Heaven Is …
The Bible uses metaphors to describe heaven.
• Paradise (the same word as Eden)—Heaven will be what God intended in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. He recreates it in Revelation chapters 21 and 22. Man is not destined to “float on a cloud” in some ethereal out-of-body experience. The redeemed will have an eternal existence on a new perfected earth, a restored Eden.
“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.” (Genesis 2:8)
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (Revelation 21:1)
• A wedding feast—Heaven will provide a time of joyful fellowship with all who have placed their hope in Jesus throughout the ages. There will be the renewing of old acquaintances and the making of new ones as we mutually are joined to our Bridegroom, Jesus the Christ.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7)
• Rest—Heaven is not a state of eternal sleep. Rather, it is an existence with no more pain and no more tears. The beloved of God will be finally and fully enabled to “enter into His rest” and to experience the final peace that comes with being able to crawl up into our Father’s “lap.”
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ ” (Revelation 21:3–4)
• The house of God—Heaven is not a coliseum meeting with millions present, but a dwelling place—a home. No one will get lost in the crowd. There will be a sense of belonging and intimacy even in the midst of multitudes of people.
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)
• The Holy City shining brilliantly—Heaven will be a place of visual beauty with pleasure in that beauty—the beauty of His presence and the beauty of His creation. All that He has planned is beyond the imagination of finite human beings, but it will be seen for the first time with perfected eyes and unlimited comprehension.
“He carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” (Revelation 21:10–11)
• A place of learning—Heaven is a place where minds and intellects will become perfected. Being conformed to the likeness of Christ, His followers will explore all the countless facets of His character and His nature.
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:29)
Question: “What does an informed concept of heaven do for the believer?”
Answer: If you were to go to a doctor for a checkup fearing there was something drastically wrong with your body, the doctor might tell you, “It’s merely the flu.” “You mean it’s not cancer?” The doctor replies, “No. You have the flu.” Convinced that your illness is not terminal, you immediately feel better. You still have the flu, but you have moved past the fear of dying. An informed concept of heaven does much the same thing for the believer.
The phrase, “He is so heavenly-minded, he is of no earthly good” is a misstatement. The fact is, if we have a proper understanding of heaven, that understanding and the resulting perspective will cause us to be of measurable earthly good. The greater problem may be that we are so earthly-minded that we are of no heavenly good!
Having a true understanding of what the eternal heaven will be like will motivate you to live your temporal life in a way that is pleasing to God.
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ ” (Revelation 21:3–4)
II. Characteristics of Those Facing Death
Death may come by many different means. It may come as a result of a long, lingering illness. It may come as the result of a tragic accident. It may come as the result of a hostile act by another human being. It may come simply as the natural result of the physical process of aging. But it will come—for everyone in God’s due season.
It is the recognition of that season with which most struggle—knowing when to let go and how to let go. The world of music composition offers a metaphor for that process.
Great composers have learned the art of letting go … of knowing when and how to end their compositions. Some do it with a flurry of drums, blaring trumpets and crashing cymbals, letting go dramatically and emotionally. Others choose to conclude quietly, almost with a benediction. Others end abruptly. Others seem to end in a rage, with anger and violence. Still others prolong letting go, having their “endings” go on and on in endless repetitions.
Isn’t that how we approach death? Some die with drama, some with peace, some without warning, some with rage and some with denial and resistance?
Death is to be viewed as a doorway into another mode of existence, not as something final or ultimate. For some, death is a shadow over life that diminishes existence. For others, death enhances existence as an entrance into eternity and as a new beginning. For the believer, death is a vanquished enemy.
“For death is the destiny of every man.”
A. What Are the Needs of a Dying Person?
• to have complete faith and confidence in your personal physician and in the hospital staff who care for you
• to know that the ones who matter most to you still love and care for you even though you are in the process of leaving them
• to rest assured that those dependent on you will have their needs met when you are gone
• to understand your own emotional needs as you face death
• to apply the resources of your genuine moral and spiritual life—your faith
• to die with dignity
B. What Are Some Common Attitudes of the Bereaved Person?
• Common Initial Attitudes • Common Future Attitudes
“For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.”
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”
• Hopelessness • Hopefulness
“ ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”
• Bitterness • Acceptance
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.”
• Self-pity • Thankfulness
“The memory of the righteous will be a blessing.”
• Martyr complex • Humility
“ ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
(1 Peter 5:5–7)
• Withdrawal from others • Interest in others
“In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
• Cursing God • Relying on God
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
C. How Do You know If You are Grieving?
When we initially experience a significant loss, we can plunge into depths of grief and have difficulty coming up for air. Then eventually, after we surface, we are simply treading water, not swimming toward a real destination. The reason is called grief. When you feel engulfed with grief, realize that you have a Deliverer who will keep you from drowning in the depths of despair.
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.”
□ Do you feel alone and isolated?
□ Do you feel that you are mechanically going through the motions of life?
□ Do you feel resentful toward God for allowing your loss?
□ Do you ask, “Why?” over and over again?
□ Do you feel overwhelmed, not knowing what to do or where to turn?
□ Do you feel emotionally distraught because of your loss?
□ Do you have frequent daydreams about your loss?
□ Do you feel angry or bitter over your loss?
□ Do you have difficulty forgiving those who caused your loss?
□ Do you frequently dream at night about your loss?
□ Do you see life as an empty struggle without much reward?
□ Do you feel helpless knowing how much others must also be suffering?
□ Do you wonder what kind of God would allow your loss?
□ Do you view God as uninvolved and lacking compassion?
Regardless of your view of God right now, the Bible says,
“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”
D. What Are Common Physical Symptoms of a Bereaved Person?
• insomnia or other sleep disturbances
• loss of appetite or other eating problems
E. Grieving Over the Anniversary of Death
Question: “My husband died this past year, and the closer it gets to the anniversary of his death, the more overwhelmed I feel. Is there anything I can do to keep from being consumed with sorrow?”
Answer: The anniversary of the death of a loved one will be a tender time for you, but there are ways you can remember him without feeling like you are drowning in a sea of sorrow. Plan ahead what you will do around the time of the anniversary and how you will honor his memory.
What you are experiencing is commonly referred to as “anniversary depression,” a yearly recurring reaction to a past loss or trauma. This involuntary depression correlates to the anniversary date of your loss and lasts for a limited period of time. You might make plans to process some of your grief with a wise, caring friend or counselor. And since the depression is triggered by conscious or unconscious memories, you can choose to create new memories around that date in ways such as these:
— planning an evening or an outing with a special friend around the time of the anniversary
— going to a Christian seminar or workshop to help keep your focus on the Lord and on His healing Word
— attending a social event so that you will not be alone
— inviting close family members or friends for a special meal together where you share lighthearted and loving memories
— giving loved ones a special little remembrance in your husband’s honor (a poem, a picture, or a possession that belonged to him)
— initiating a project in honor of his life
Expect to have tears—that is normal. Thank God for the ways in which your husband’s memory is a blessing to you today. As you take control of this tender time, you will not feel “out of control” and will do well.
“I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’ ” (Revelations 14:13)
III. Causes of Difficulty and Embitterment
Written on a Tombstone
“Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be,
So prepare for death and follow me.”
To which an unknown passerby had added:
“To follow you I’m not content
Until I know which way you went.”
Death, for most people, even for many believers, is an evil event, a frightening experience to be avoided at all costs. One cannot have a proper view of death without first having a proper view of life in Christ. Many try to escape the inevitable event and consequently face it without proper preparation.
Viewed in proper perspective, life and death can be affirmed and embraced. A meeting has a beginning and an ending. A drama has a first curtain and a final curtain. A worship service has a call to worship and a benediction. We who are in fellowship with Christ need no longer be enslaved to the fear of death. While death is not removed, it is rendered impotent. The saddest part of the failure to face death is that we also fail to face life, failing to live life to its fullest.
Some of the best counsel is, “Don’t die until you are dead!” Some of life’s richest and most meaningful experiences can happen as a person struggles with a terminal illness.
“As the body without spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
A. How Does the World Approach the Concept of Death?
• With fear: fear of the known and of the unknown. Someone has said, “It’s inconvenient to be mortal—you never know when everything may suddenly stop happening.”
• With false hope: holding on to the irrational belief that even though others are dying around you, you will somehow elude death yourself. “Tell the scientists to hurry—I don’t want to die before they discover how to save me.”
• With uncertainty: not understanding our purpose in being here and having no concept of what is to follow. “I’m doing what I can to prolong my life, hoping that someday I’ll learn what it’s for.”
If we don’t have a biblical perspective on death, we may tend to say things like this about one who has died.
• “He’s better off than we are.”
• “God wanted her to be with Him.”
• “It’s God’s will, and who are we to question God?”
These statements trivialize death and give no honor to God. In our haste to comfort, we may treat death as if it were less serious than it is.
A benediction is the speaking of a blessing. Could it be that death is to be viewed as a benediction on this life, a blessing to the next?
B. What Questions Do People Ask When Facing Death?
• Does anyone really care?
• Will I be abandoned?
• What is going to happen to me?
• Can I handle this?
• How can I prepare for the eventuality of my own death?
• What will happen to me after death?
C. What Are the Biblical Answers?
• I have Someone who not only has affection for me, but who is also able to meet every need that I face.
• That Someone has promised to never leave me nor forsake me.
• My Someone is the author of every good and perfect gift. He has promised to care for me with the tenderness of a mother with her infant.
• He has given me the assurance in His Word that I can do all things in the strength of Christ.
• I can consider myself already dead and my real life hidden in Him.
• And finally, He has promised me an eternal home with Him.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.… Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.… Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
D. What Is the Root Cause of Embitterment
“It is unfair that my loved one was not permitted to live a longer, more fulfilled life.”
You may never have God’s perspective on earthly events, but you can trust His loving kindness—His love and His mercy toward you. And you can trust that He has a purpose for your life and the life of your loved one that is beyond your comprehension.
If you came up on stalled traffic on the Interstate, you might not be able to see far enough ahead to determine whether it would be better to wait for the traffic to clear or to back up and take another route. However, the traffic reporter in the helicopter above the scene would have a much broader perspective and could give you reliable advice.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
IV. Steps to Solution
As he came to death’s door, with his last breath, he breathed the name of his Lord. And he slept.
When he awakened, he stood at the edge of a body of water—peaceful, a sea of glass. On the other side was beauty—lights and shapes and colors that he could not previously have even imagined.
As he watched, a Man walked across the water toward him. As the Man approached him, He held out His hand and beckoned him to come. But he resisted, knowing that he did not deserve the invitation the Man offered him. But the Man persisted until finally, he took the hand and was led to the water.
As his foot touched the surface of the water, a sensation began at the soles of his feet—a sensation of cleansing, of wiping away all the grime of his life. That sensation eventually enveloped his entire body, and he was filled with peace. Then, with his hand holding tight to the hand of the Man, he walked across the lake into eternity.
The God of the universe invites believers to view the myriad details of life from His eternal vantage point. The result? Believers are more directed toward eternity.
A. Key Verse to Memorize
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.’ ”
B. Key Passage to Read and Reread
1 Corinthians chapter 15
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”
(1 Corinthians 15:42–44)
Just as Jesus’ body was recognizable, your new body will be recognizable. Likewise, your new resurrected body …
• will be imperishable—not capable of physical corruption v. 42
• will be glorious—not disposed to being dishonorable v. 43
• will be powerful—not susceptible to sickness v. 43
• will be spiritual—not limited to natural laws v. 44
• will inherit the kingdom of God—not prohibited from the presence of God v. 50
• will be changed—not bound by the earthly body v. 51
• will be immortal—not disposed to death v. 53
The most important preparation for life is spiritual preparation, and the only preparation for death is coming to know a life that is eternal. There is only one way to live, and that is in the Lord. There is really only one way to die, and that is in the Lord. No other philosopher has ever dared suggest an answer to death. No other intellectual discipline has ever claimed to have a sufficient solution. Only the Word of God clearly and plainly gives us directions and descriptions of eternal life.
Life must be released to God to be fully lived.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The ultimate lie is that God cannot be trusted with our lives. Consider Jesus’ death: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). What a beautiful way to die. He let go of life in perfect trust in God.
That kind of “releasing faith” does not just happen. It crowns the end of a life that learned the art of letting go and letting God.
C. Know the Underlying Assumptions of the Christian Perspective on Death
• The Christian faith …
— holds that some personal knowledge of God is possible
— assumes that the natural order of things is inherently good
— promotes a lofty view of what it means to be human
— recognizes protest and resistance as proper responses to human suffering
— anticipates life beyond health and death
“The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”
D. Know That Christianity Produces Hearts That Are Full of Light
• The person whose heart is full of light …
— acts with compassion toward others
— cares about the needs of others
— shares fellowship with others
— relaxes without feeling guilty
— knows how to receive as well as how to give
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.”
E. Know What the Dying Need to Know about God
• God is there …
— listening to the cry of your heart
— exercising sovereign control over your life
— remembering your frailties
— working out His purposes in your circumstances
— giving you the faith to live (and to die)
— enabling you to walk with hind’s feet—having sure footing
My task is to live and to work while it is yet day and to trust that when night comes, my same God is Lord of the night just as He is Lord of the day.
“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.”
F. Know the Rights of the Dying
• When dying, you need …
— to be told that you have a terminal condition—that you are dying
— to die your own death with dignity—allowing a dying, decayed body to run its natural course to decide how you will live out your final days—what you will do and who you will see
— to be alone and to be with family, but also to prepare to sever your ties with this life—to say your goodbyes
— to honestly express your feelings and desires—to make final arrangements with loved ones for your funeral or memorial service
“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.… We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”
(2 Corinthians 4:7, 10–11)
G. Know Six Keys to Successful Christian Counseling
• When counseling a seriously ill person …
— Show you care.
— Demonstrate your commitment.
— Clarify the issues.
— Teach coping techniques.
— Counsel on contingencies.
— Point people to Christ.
“It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak.”
(2 Corinthians 4:13)
H. Know How to First Respond When a Death Has Occurred
• Acknowledge a person’s loss immediately (a call or personal visit).
• Pray for family and friends (publicly and privately).
• Be affectionate (a warm hug or handshake).
• Adapt to the communication needs of the person (listen, laugh, cry, affirm feelings).
• Be genuine. (Don’t use pat responses.)
• Come ready to help with details.
— Call family attorney.
— Locate existing will.
— Apply for death certificate. (Time varies, but it takes about six weeks to receive.)
— Call insurance companies.
— Locate all insurance policies and bank accounts.
— Check existing retirement funds.
— Contact Social Security office.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
(2 Corinthians 4:8–9)
I. Know How to Provide Practical Help
• Depending on your accessibility to the family, provide …
— a writing pad and pen beside every phone to record all calls
— a writing tablet at the front door to record all visitors, flowers, gifts and telegrams
— food in disposable serving dishes, if possible, especially easy snack foods such as fruit, cheese, crackers, cinnamon rolls
— beverages, ice, large coffee urn
— disposable plates, cups, eating utensils, napkins, paper towels, plastic wrap and trash bags
— a schedule of meals by coordinating with others
— adhesive tape, scissors and ballpoint pen to mark dishes to be returned to their owners (Most mortuaries provide booklets with self-adhesive numbers to apply on items as they are received along with a numbered list in the booklet for the sender’s information to be entered.)
— minor household chores and repairs: replace light bulbs, vacuum, repair the screen door, mow the lawn
— a monetary gift to help with medical, travel or funeral expenses
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
J. Know What to Offer
• Depending on your relationship to the family, offer …
— to make phone calls to funeral director, pastor, friends, relatives, schools
— to answer the door and the phone for a block of time
— to accompany the individual to the mortuary and assist with some funeral plans
a. Select the casket and vault.
b. Help write the obituary.
c. Select the music, musicians, preservice music, congregational songs.
d. Plan the order of service.
e. Prepare the burial clothes.
— to help talk through and arrange for the practical needs: hair appointments, dry cleaning, laundry, shoe polishing
— to help with airport pickups
— to provide a spare vehicle for out-of-town guests
— to provide housing for out-of-town guests
— to spend time playing and/or talking with the children at the house
— to stay at the home when unattended … when the family is at the funeral home or funeral service
“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
K. Know the Purposes of a Christian Funeral
• To provide a turning point
— to deal with the reality of death
— to enable the bereaved to begin facing the rest of their lives
• To encourage openness to God’s love
• To provide a bridge over the fear of death to the hope of life eternal
• To affirm belief in the Resurrection of Christ and of all believers
— to provide comfort concerning the person who has died
— to give courage to face the prospect of one’s own death
— to offer a significant occasion for an encounter with God
“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
(2 Corinthians 4:14–18)
L. Know the Do’s and Don’ts for the Family
Don’t idolize. “He was the smartest, most perfect son a parent could have.”
Do … Verbalize the good points: “He was so thoughtful toward everyone.”
Don’t turn the bedroom into a shrine.
Do … Find another purpose for the room at an appropriate time (a guest bedroom, a study, a craft room).
Don’t cling to personal possessions for an excessive period of time. This can prolong the pain. Appropriate time spans will vary. Healing is a process.
Do … Save special items; then share other useful clothing and toys with others.
Don’t make major decisions for at least one year.
Do … Make short-term goals.
Don’t send children away at a time of bereavement.
Do … Take children to the funeral—they need to experience closure and the reality of death.
Don’t say to the children, “She has gone to sleep forever.” A child may be afraid to go to sleep for fear of dying.
Do … Say, “We feel sad that she died, but we won’t always be sad.”
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”
M. Know the Do’s and Don’ts for Friends
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Don’t stay away for fear of what to say.
Do … Provide companionship.
Don’t over quote Scripture.
Do … Listen and provide emotional support.
Don’t wait to be asked to help.
Do … Look for needs and meet them.
Don’t tell those with tears not to cry.
Do … Encourage expressing emotions.
Don’t exclude one in grief from activities.
Do … Keep in touch!
Don’t say, “Is there anything I can do?”
Do … Be specific.
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
N. Questions and Answers
Question: “Is reincarnation biblical?”
Answer: No. The doctrine that a person’s soul migrates from one body to another through death and rebirth is inconsistent with biblical truth.
“Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
Question: “Where do babies go when they die?”
Answer: They go into the presence of the Lord.
“His servants asked him [David], ‘Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!’ He answered, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.” But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.’ ” (2 Samuel 12:21–23)
Question: “I aborted my child who was conceived in sin. Where is my child now?”
Answer: Although the Bible does not directly state where unborn babies dwell, it implies that they all go straight to heaven. Your sin is not the issue here … your unborn baby committed no sin. Realize that King David, described as “a man after my [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13:22), committed sexual sin with Bathsheba. Also notice when David and Bathsheba’s seven-day-old baby died, the king said,
“I will go to him [in heaven], but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23)
Question: “What does the Bible say about trying to communicate with the dead?”
Answer: Spiritists conducting séances, mediums practicing necromancy, channelers speaking for the dead—all are of the occult. All are “detestable to the Lord.” The Bible forbids all these practices.
“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.” (Deuteronomy 18:10–12)
Question: “What is wrong with attempting to consult the dead?”
Answer: Efforts to consult the spirits of the dead are practices of the occult. The word occult, which means “hidden,” is used to describe any attempt to gain supernatural power or knowledge apart from the God of the Bible. If we put our faith in any person or practice other than the Lord, we have misplaced faith. Instead, we must go to God for His wisdom … lean on the Lord for His understanding … have faith in Him for our future.
“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19)
Question: “What does the Bible teach about the afterlife? When I die, will I first go to purgatory?”
Answer: Millions believe that purgatory is a middle state of temporary punishment for those who have died in venial (lesser) sin or for those who have not satisfied the justice of God for sins already forgiven. They believe time in purgatory may be shortened through financial gifts or services rendered by the living on behalf of the dead.
In the New King James Version—
• Hell, hades and associated names are mentioned 99 times.
• Heaven as the abode of God, where believers will live, is mentioned 230 times.
• Purgatory is not mentioned one time!
Additionally, purgatory was not declared a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church until 1439. Scripture clearly teaches that under the new covenant of grace only one sacrifice removes sin—not the sacrifice of money or of service, but the sacrificial Lamb of God, Jesus, the only Savior.
“When this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God [meaning the work on behalf of our sins is finished].… By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.… ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14, 17–18)
Question: “After death, can a person become an angel—or is this a myth?”
Answer: The Bible teaches that all angelic beings were created before the human race. Many people hope or believe that a deceased loved one, such as a young daughter or son, has been transformed into an angel and now watches over them. No biblical basis exists for such a myth. While this belief may seem comforting, our comfort needs to come from the Lord and be based on truth.
“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7)
Question: “What will our resurrected bodies be like?”
Answer: The Lord Jesus Christ will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Our bodily resurrection rests on Christ’s bodily resurrection.
“[The Lord Jesus Christ], by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:21)
Question: “What happens to our bodies when we go to heaven?”
Answer: The same basic question is asked in 1 Corinthians 15:35: “With what kind of body will they come [into the resurrection]?” Paul answers that after death, every believer will have a visible, resurrected body. After His death, Jesus had a visible, resurrected body—He even said to His doubting disciple Thomas,
“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:39)
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