I Am Afraid to Die. Death is not Natural Despite what Experience Tells Us

When people tell me they aren’t afraid to die it makes me think they’re not really telling the truth. It makes me think that they are trying to convince themselves, or at least others, that it’s just a part of life and when their time comes it just comes. As Christians we genuinely can have confidence when we die that at that moment we will be translated into the presence of the living God in Christ. But when pagans tell me they aren’t afraid to die I don’t believe them; and I’m skeptical when Christians tell me the same. I know what it feels like to face my mortality because of the type of cancer I was diagnosed with back in 2009; DSRCT (‘desmoplastic small round cell tumor sarcoma’). I love Jesus Christ, and have been his since he called me to himself when I was 3.5 years old. I walk with him, and have been for years; I read through the Bible over and again; I have fellowship with other Christians around the reality of Christ (communion). But the day I found out I had the type of cancer I had I entered another realm and level of fear that I had never experienced prior (and I’ve been through a lot prior); and that fear never really went away during that time. It is scary to know you’re dying; we weren’t created to die, contrary to what people say about the natural ‘life cycle’. I remember just after I was diagnosed, Michael Spencer, also known as the iMonk, a theological blogger I knew, a little, was diagnosed I believe with stage four colon cancer. He shared my sentiment; he was afraid, and did not want to die. He walked with Christ, had fellowship with others around Christ, and had a deep abiding relationship with the Triune God. But he felt the same as me; he believed the same as me: that death is not a natural thing; that it is a scary thing. He was scared, and so was I. I don’t think Michael and I are unique. Michael died, and it was a rough death. I didn’t die, but it was a rough road to tow nonetheless.

I’m not sure why I felt like writing this tonight, really. I think I am just being reimpressed again with the reality that every single soul on this earth is facing their own mortality. I believe when people tell me—particularly those who don’t know Christ—that they aren’t afraid to die that they aren’t really telling the truth. I think deep down when they are all by themselves, and if they had the cancer diagnosis I had, or what Michael died from, they would be terrified. There’s nothing noble about death, or in pretending that we aren’t afraid; we are. The Apostle Paul doesn’t call death the ‘last enemy’ for nothing (cf. I Cor. 15); Hebrews doesn’t say that people live ‘in fear of death’ for nothing. It is okay to admit that death is a scary thing. I think the only time I won’t be afraid of death is when I actually die (or Jesus comes back prior). I know what is going to happen to me when I die, but that doesn’t change the fact that death itself is not a scary thing; it is.

Now, as Christians, don’t get me wrong, the LORD isn’t absent in the dying process; in fact he is ever present. My experience with dying was that the LORD showed up in some powerful and unbelievable ways; he did indeed provide me with an inexpressible peace. But at the same time I was still really scared. I was so scared that my fear went beyond anxiety; it was deeper than anxiety (and I’d suffered from anxiety for years, years prior). Yes, I also had the peace of Christ abiding deeply in my soul; the LORD spoke to my heart constantly assuring me that I was going to be okay (and I am!). But the reality of being disembodied, that for me wasn’t something I could get my head around at that time (still can’t). I had an impossible time imagining myself without my body. This brings us full circle. This is where the fear of death, I believe, comes from; for all of us, if we are being honest and reflective enough. It isn’t natural to try to think life, as human beings without a physical body (see II Cor. 5). And when faced with that prospect, with a disease like cancer wherein you have the time to think about such things, fear is ever present; the enemy status of death becomes real.

I know this post might seem morbid, but I’m simply trying to reflect, in a streamy way, on all of this. God’s grace is sufficient, and his presence is hyper-real when facing a terminal illness; his assurances are ever present and always abiding. But even with all that I was still scared to die. And not just the process, but the second I took my last breath; that scared me. Indeed, at that second I would have ceased immediately to be afraid; I would have been in the presence of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, at the right hand of the Father where his pleasures are forevermore. To be clear, I actually don’t live in constant fear of death. In fact, in a sense, I stand defiantly against it in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; I stand against it as I participate in the indestructible life of the risen Savior Jesus Christ. But it’s easier for me to have such boldness as I write this in my cancer free state. I will never welcome death; indeed I will fight it till the day I die, or Christ returns, through proclaiming Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection till he comes again.

 

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4 comments

  1. True… re. death. We have faced it as a family head on, in terms of losing our 17 year son 18 years ago. I have faced it when I found out 12 years ago I had heart disease.

    On another note, I would be very interested in your take on the recent “The New Testament: A Translation (2017)” by David Bentley Hart. For me it’s quite presumptuous for _anyone_ to start writing a new translation of the NT which the idea… “Hey all you birds have got it all wrong, from the very start”. I’ve got it figured out and you’ve got to start listening to my novel slant.

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  2. Sorry to hear about your son (my daughter just turned 17 — we almost lost her 6 years ago to a freak accident), and the heart disease. I have kidney disease, to an extent, because of my chemo in my one remaining kidney.

    Yeah, I pretty much agree about the attitude in re to DBH’s translation. I figure that’s just who he is: a provocateur.

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  3. Thank you for this, Bobby. Thank you for your honesty – it’s so comforting to me to hear this – it’s not morbid, it’s real. Most of my friends are so stoic and say they’re unafraid of death. I remember my college roommate who said he’d welcome cancer so he could “be with Jesus sooner.” I never quite believed him. And, you’re right, death is not natural – to be without a body is hard to imagine. I have several people in my life who are facing a terminal diagnosis and while I pray for their healing, I also strongly pray for them to experience God’s presence and peace. I want Him to pull back the veil just a bit, so they can have a real foretaste of their future with Him. I’m not Catholic but I think there’s something to the prayer “to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Eric

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  4. Thank you, Eric. Yes, he can provide a kind of peace that this world definitely cannot give nor understand. That peace is definitely real. Death is indeed the last enemy that our society either wants to full on avoid, or to morbidly embrace (like a death cult).

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