Hi, The events of the past few months have been rather troubling for me, and have led me to focus on very morbid thoughts. Can the fear of death truly coexist with faith? Is is healthy for a Christian to ponder excessively what people experience in the last few moments of their life? And if a Christian is unable to find reassurance in Scripture or Prayer on this matter, what other avenues can she turn to?
First, let me apologize for our delayed response to your question. We had a glitch somewhere, and no one was notified of your question until I just happened to notice it in the Dashboard. Perhaps it was Providence that I was the one to see your question.¬†My sister died recently, pretty close in time to when you wrote in your question, so this is something I’ve been thinking about a bit¬†too.
Since you asked three questions, I¬†will provide my answer in three parts.
QUESTION:Can the fear of death truly coexist with faith?
ANSWER: Yes, but¬†it’s not ideal.
QUESTION:¬†Is it healthy for a Christian to ponder excessively what people experience in the last few moments of their life?
ANSWER: No, because nothing in excess is healthy.
But is it healthy for a Christian to spend a good bit of time pondering¬†what people experience in the last few moments of their life? There’s nothing wrong with that,¬†as long as it doesn’t detract from doing anything else you’re supposed to be doing or thinking about. If it does detract, you’d better cut back. If you can’t just cut back, then just quit.
QUESTION: And if a Christian is unable to find reassurance in Scripture or Prayer on this matter, what other avenues can she turn to?
ANSWER:I can answer that directly:¬†I think that turning to poetry, literature, or¬†philosophy is usually a¬†pretty good idea, and this is probably not an exception. (The best place to start for a Christian studying philosophy is C. S. Lewis’ more philosophical works: Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters,¬†The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain,¬†and¬†The Abolition of Man. ¬†In literature, I’d suggest Tolkien and Shakespeare. ¬†In poetry, uh . . . well . . . maybe more Tolkien and Shakespeare; and Tennyson is cool.)
But a direct answer may not be called for. ¬†I wish I knew why¬†you aren’t comforted by¬†Scripture and prayer. We may¬†have a bigger problem here than adding literature, philosophy, or¬†poetry to the mix can fix. If you don’t get any reassurance from Scripture, I wonder if it’s¬†because you don’t understand its teachings on death, or because you have difficulty accepting that what Scripture says is true. (I can think of a third possibility; I’ll get to that later.)
If you don’t understand the teachings of Scripture on death, then in addition to¬†the Bible itself you might want to turn to some good people who can teach you more of what the Bible says. For example, a good pastor or biblical scholar or some good theology books. (In theology, John Stott’s¬†Basic Christianity is a great place to start.)
But here is¬†an overview of biblical teaching on death:¬†1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 explain pretty clearly two basic principles regarding death:¬†Those who belong to Jesus are free from punishment for sin after death because they belong to Jesus, and Death is only temporary; there is a bodily resurrection coming.¬†(Add Philippians 1, and you get the principle that Those who belong to Jesus are with him in death.)
However, if the root problem is that you don’t know if you can believe the Bible, that’s a different matter. ¬†And a bigger topic than one blog post can handle! ¬†All I can do here is give you links that might help. Here they are: this book¬†(of course), and this book¬†(naturally), and this book¬†(not to be missed) and this book¬†(a splendid one), and (both last and least) this analysis¬†(if I do say so myself).
A¬†follower of Jesus who believes the Bible has nothing to fear in death. Of course,¬†fear is an emotion, and emotions aren’t always under the total control of our beliefs. ¬†Having the right beliefs helps to keep them within reasonable limits, but emotions are still emotions. So that’s the third possibility I mentioned: that (for whatever reason) your emotions don’t follow your knowledge.
What should you do if that’s the problem? There are things that can help here, but . . . we’re talking about the health of your soul, and spiritual healing can be rather complex; the same treatment that works for one person might not work for everyone, and one treatment that works for you might not heal you all the way. Robert C. Roberts wrote a good book that looks into¬†this sort of thing in more detail, but here are a few practices that can help train the right emotions: prayer (including prayer for healing), meditation on biblical truth, and corporate worship which¬†calls on¬†the emotions to respond to biblical truth.
May the peace of the risen Christ be with you,
Dr. Mark J. Boone is a teacher and researcher in philosophy, especially the history of philosophy, primarily the ancient and medieval eras, writing his dissertation on Saint Augustine. Dr. Boone is the Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Forman Christian College. Mark is an occasional book reviewer for the journal Augustinian Studies and has written articles dealing with Plato, William James, theology and the arts, and religious epistemology. In some of his precious little spare time Mark makes animated cartoons based on famous speeches and dialogues in the history of philosophy, available on YouTube and Vimeo under the username TeacherofPhilosophy.