Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.
I think about death often. In fact, a day doesn't go back when I do not think about death, dying and what heaven would be like.
I believe Paul when he said, “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Most people don't associate death with gain. They think of death as a loss, and not a gain. They view death as a terrible tragedy. People don't even like to think about death or talk about it. However, death is something that everyone has in common.
Every time I preach a funeral or attend one, I am reminded of my own mortality because I, like everyone else, is closer to death than when I was first born.
There is a very good reason Ecclesiastes 7:1 says that the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth.
While that might seem contradictory, it makes sense when one knows that death is not the end but a transition.
Paul's View of Death
In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul wrote:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me; yet I don’t know what I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body.
Paul considered death to be his friend and not his enemy. Therefore, whether he lived or died would have been fine with him. What he tried to emphasize was that if God called him to heaven, that would be fine with him because he knew he would be with the Lord.
Paul is also the writer of 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 who says that when Christians die, they go immediately to be with God. He said, "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord."
Paul did not view life as being so bad and death was a way of escape. He was not suicidal. He never considered it as a way to find relief. It might be a way for a person to escape his pain, but he definitely will leave the pain behind for his family, friends, and loved ones.
Suicide is not God’s will for anyone. Even though to die is gain, it would be selfish to commit suicide because it does not exalt God. It is always a selfish act without thinking about those who are left behind. When a person commits suicide, it is evident that he doesn't believe God knows what's best for him.
There have been times when people have questioned why God allows them to suffer instead of causing them to die. Several biblical figures have told God to take them away from the cares of the world. They told him that they would rather die than to live.
- Moses (Numbers 11:15)
- Elijah (1 Kings 19:4)
- Job (Job 6:11)
- Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14-18)
- Jonah (Jonah 4:3, 8)
Reasons to Believe That to Die is Gain
There are several reasons to believe to die is gain.
- Death is the avenue to a person's earthly investment. Death ushers a person into the presence of God where he will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your Master.”
- A Christian's death frees him from his earthly labors, trials, and struggles. The gain is freedom from burdens and problems here on earth.
- In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul teaches that to be absent from the body is “to be at home with the Lord.” When a person dies in the Lord, Paul says he will “be with Christ,” which is “very much better” (Philippians 1:23). We should remember that these scriptures apply to the saved and not to the unsaved.
David's View of Death
The psalmist wrote:
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15).
David said he could not praise God in his grave. He said in Psalm 115:17 that the dead cannot sing praises to the LORD, for they have gone into the silence of the grave. Therefore, being alive would afford him the opportunity to praise God.
Isaiah's View of Death
Isaiah recognized that some people might have a wrong view of death, especially when the righteous dies. The prophet made it clear that some people don't believe a righteous or innocent person should die.
It is stated in Isaiah 7:1 that when a person dies, he is “taken away from evil,” and enters “into peace.”
What the Church Fathers Said about Death
Martin Luther said, “Even in the best of health we should have death always before our eyes [so that] we will not expect to remain on this earth forever, but will have one foot in the air, so to speak.”
Jonathan Edwards once wrote down 70 resolutions which he read weekly to help keep focused. Number 9 reads, “Resolved, to think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.”
Richard Baxter, the Puritan preacher who lived with chronic bodily illness, said, “I preach as though I ne’er should preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”
All Christians should have a better understanding of death and dying. They should be able to say what they believe about death like the church fathers and like Paul and other biblical figures.
Quotes about Death
- Death - the last sleep? No, it is the final awakening. Walter Scott
- The first breath is the beginning of death. Thomas Fuller
- The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. Mark Twain
- No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Steve Jobs
- Six feet of earth makes us all equal. Italian (on death and dying)
- Death keeps no calendar. English (on death and dying)
- A person has learned much who has learned how to die. German (on death and dying)
Reasons Not to Be Afraid of Death
Death is not to be feared because Jesus was the firstfruit of our own death and resurrection of the body, according to 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. He is our example to follow.
In 1 Corinthians 15:50-55, Paul explains that we cannot go to heaven without dying because flesh and blood cannot enter. Jesus went before us in death to make it easy for us to die. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:55:
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
William Cullen Bryant Puts Death into Perspective
The American poet William Cullen Bryant explains his view of death in the poem, "Thanatopsis" which means "a view of death. The poem has 87 lines, but the last nine lines summarize Bryant's view of death which also include my view of death.
The American poet says we are to so live that when it is time for us to approach death, we should be afraid or try to fight it. We should not be like a fearful slave at night who is kept in a dungeon. Instead, we should be confident and comfortable as we welcome death.
The image Bryant gives illustrates no fear at all. The very last line of the poem says the slave who is unafraid "wraps the covers from his bed around him and lies down to pleasant dreams."
Margaret Minnicks' View of Death
Like the poet William Cullen Bryant, I believe death should be a wonderful experience, and people should not try to resist it because they cannot prevent it anyway.
I used to be afraid of death. When I was a child and I heard someone had died in the neighborhood, I would sleep with the covers over my head at night. As I studied the Bible and learned what it said about death, I became no longer afraid. Now I give eulogies at funerals with confidence and not fear at all. I have been the eulogist at dozens of funerals of relatives including a brother, cousins, aunts, and uncles. I gave remarks at my mother and father's funerals as well as participating during the Homegoing Services of many church members and a couple of students.
I believe when a person dies in the Lord, he is at peace and goes into the presence of God.
Hopefully, people will not take this the wrong way because it is said as a metaphor. I feel a little jealous when someone dies because that person has taken the journey that we all must take. He just happens to take his journey before I did.
People often say, "God took a person too soon." I believe God's timing is perfect. God knew when we would die even before we were born. I also believe that people die when their work on earth is done.
Very few people will agree with me about this last viewpoint. However, it doesn't keep me from believing that everyone had a conference with God before he was even conceived. During the conference, we all agreed to the life we would live and what our destiny be, including how and when we would die. Then, when we came to earth, God allowed us to forget the agreement. My belief about this is based on Jeremiah 1:5 that reads:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."