Fearing Death

As a pastor, I have been around death more than the average person.  The experience can vary considerably, but it is never pretty.  Our physical death is part of the wages of sin.  Theoretically, it is something that should never happen, but because of sin it is something that always happens.

Our bodies are geared up to fight in order to continue living.  Consequently,  we often struggle those last few hours.  For many it is most visible in belabored breathing.  I would hate to drown, so struggling to breath is not something I covet. My mother had a dying process that took several days.  I was there for the last three. In the midst of this process, she awoke from a semi-comatose state and said, “I haven’t done anything wrong.”  I asked what she meant.  She was confused as to why death took so long.  She thought maybe she was being punished.

Fear of the process is not the only thing.  In fact, the process is a minor thing.  Morphine can get you through that.  Fear of what is next is the major thing.  Everyone has some angst over the unknown.  We only die once so we can’t claim direct experience.  That is where the promises of God and the description of eternal life come in.  A strong faith can make you fearless.  God is trustworthy and Jesus is the cause of our salvation, so we can simply let go without fear that we need to do something.  That kind of faith takes some time to develop, however.  Most people are a little scared, and that is OK.  Saving faith is not the same thing as absolute, fearless confidence.  Saving faith is a connection that God alone can make between you and Jesus.  It is spiritual, not intellectual or emotional.  Saving faith can produce an intellectual trust that makes you strong through the process of death.  It is a great witness and a source of joy, but not a prerequisite to being saved.

If you have somebody who is dying and they are a baptized child of God and still they are afraid of death, talk to them about Heaven, remind them about Jesus, and assure them that not only will Jesus see them through the process of death, so will you.  I talk about Heaven the same way I would talk about a pending vacation of a lifetime.  It’s exciting.  It is–like no other experience.  There comes a time to stop talking about recovery and to stop holding on to this life.  Let a person know that things will be fine for the survivors.  Give them permission to leave.  And get them exciting about where they are going.

I’ve seen some of my own parishioners go from “wide-eyed scared” to at peace and happy.  They should be.  Thanks to Jesus we all can be.

The Destiny of Satan

It is a classic picture, found in sources as diverse as Renaissance art and The Far Side, to see the damned trapped in Hell with Satan and demons.  Some of that art seems to suggest that Satan and demons somewhat enjoy it.  They are captives not masters.  Don’t depend on artists or cartoonists to be biblically correct.  The Pre-Judgment Day destination of the damned (Sheol, Hades) has no mention of the presence of Satan or any fallen angel.  The Post-Judgment Day destination of the damned (Hell) does.  We have already seen one quick reference in Matthew 25:41.  The other two are in Revelation.

But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf.  With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.  The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.    Revelation 19:20

Though the word “Gehenna” is not used in this paragraph, the “lake of fire” would seem to be an obvious reference to the same place.  Where is this place?  No information is given.  With possibly this one exception, it doesn’t seem to be a destination for any human prior to Judgment Day.  The fact the beast (possibly a powerful demon not Satan) and his false prophet go there Pre-Judgement Day, may suggest that Hell exists already somewhere.  The classic ideas of Hell as being at the core the Earth are both the product of confusing it with Sheol and the ancients not having any information about it.  If I were to guess, I would guess Hell is in some dimensional space completely segregated from either Heaven or Earth.  Hell’s distinction is not the endless fire, but rather it is its absence from the presence of God.  It is forsaken.

The other reference to the “lake of fire” happens in Revelation 20:7-10:

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth- Gog and Magog- to gather them for battle.  In the number they are like the sand of the seashore.  They marched across the the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of  God’s people, the city he loves.  But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.  And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and false prophet had been thrown.  They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

For some reason not shared with us, Satan is allowed a short time of being at full power, and he uses his time to drag a large segment of humanity down with him.  God thwarts his effort to attack those who remain true to God and then Satan is pitched into the lake of fire, also Pre-Judgement Day, but just barely.  His confinement and torment are then permanent.

Judgment Day then commences in Revelation 20 with this conclusion:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name is not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Hades is a place not a person.  What is death?  Death is a sentence.  It is a sentence pronounced by God’s Law that the unforgiven human must be separated from God forever.  The movement of death to Hell is a victory for the forgiven human but it is the consummation of the Law for the sinner.  Everyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life, which would be everyone not connected to Jesus, is thrown into the lake of fire with a resurrected and indestructible body and soul.  The torment is both physical, by fire, and spiritual by being forsaken by God.

As Jesus said, you really don’t want to end up here.  Jesus gave himself so you don’t have to.

 

The Process of Dying

Two weeks ago, my mother died.  I have been at the bedside of a number of people as they have died, but this was the first time I held vigil at somebody’s bedside throughout a four day death process.  I would like to share some insights that came to me from this.

The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death”.  I see this passage in a new light after what I experienced.  Technically speaking we are all in the death process.  Everyday our bodies are aging just a bit more and are less able to maintain life.  Without sin entering the human race, we wouldn’t even age.  It is the wages of sin found in our genome.  What is sin?  It is the departure from God’s plan and His Word.  In a way, our genome is the now distorted Word of God–a code of information created by God.  As a result of this distortion we are inclined the resist God and break His commandments.  We also age and eventually die. It is the wages of sin.

Death is more than aging.  It is also the often troubling final moments of our existence.  For my mother, much of her final four days were spent in a type of coma.  She couldn’t swallow.  She labored to breath. The prolongation of this uncomfortable state wasn’t necessarily a comment on her sinfulness relative to other people, but it felt like it to her.  At one point she came out of her coma and tried to speak.  Because of an increasing paralysis she not only couldn’t swallow, she could barely speak.  In a pitiful little whisper she said, “I haven’t done anything wrong”.    She was complaining about the length of the process.  She wanted it to be over.  Once again, the dying process wasn’t a sentence of torture but it was part of the wages of sin.  Without a doubt her statement of innocence wasn’t true.

The final 45 minutes were the worst.  She didn’t slip away in her sleep like many people do.  She was very awake until the morphine settled her down.  With fear in her tiny little voice, she kept saying, “Help me, help me, I’m falling.”  Our hospice nurse (who was an excellent comfort) said that this sensation was common.  I expect that it was a feeling of body and soul separating.  It too was part of the wages of sin.

Finally, her body gave up the fight.  Today her body lies in a mausoleum crypt.  This, too, isn’t what we are meant to be.  We are a body from this universe and a soul; and until we arrive at the resurrection of the dead, we will be experiencing some aspect of the wages of sin.

The worst part of the wages of sin would be the final part–eternal forsakenness by God.  That is Hell.  We will discuss that down the road a bit.  Praise God this can be avoided because Jesus experienced God forsaking Him on the cross.  That is the one aspect of the wages of sin that we just can’t bear to do ourselves.  Aging, dying and lying bodily in the tomb is bad enough.  Jesus walks with us through them all and then takes the very worst part on Himself.

Next time:  We will look at what people in the Old Testament said about Sheol