About a year ago my family sat around my grandfather’s bed, day after day, watching him and being with him as he slowly died. Cancer had taken both of his brothers in the previous year or so and now it was taking him. It wasn’t easy, as some of you might know firsthand, to watch as a man we all loved got weaker and skinnier every day. It was even worse to hear him speak as his mind, his greatest weapon, began to slip away. We would have the same conversation with him about three times in the space of ten minutes, as he was constantly forgetting what was said to him. But it was one of these confused and repeated conversations that struck me more than any other I have ever had. I was sitting next to his bed while he rested and my grandmother came into the room. She mentioned that one of my cousins had recently told her that she was afraid of dying. My grandfather, hearing what was said but not fully understanding, looked at me (with a concerned look on his face) and asked, “Why are you afraid of dying?” I laughed and told him that it wasn’t me, it was one of my cousins, who was afraid. Still looking very concerned he asked, “Why is she afraid of dying?” I told him I didn’t know, and he continued to look concerned. About thirty seconds later, short of breath and struggling to form the words he repeated his first question. I repeated my first answer, so he repeated his second question and I repeated my second answer. This continued for about three minutes until he lost his voice completely and couldn’t continue his rigorous investigation into this terrible fear of death any longer.
This was a simple exchange, barely worth being labelled as a conversation, but it made a massive impact on my life. Here was a man on the brink of death, and his greatest worry wasn’t his own death, but rather that one of his grandchildren might be afraid of the inevitable death that they would one day face. He was confident (even on the edge of death) in the words of Jesus in John 11:25-26, which says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” He knew that this was not truly death, but rather the start of an incredible, eternal life with his Father.
“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” -Romans 14:8
This verse is amazing. We belong to the same God that invented life, the same God that could breathe life into a pile of dust to make man, the same God that could bring a valley of dry bones back to life, and the same God that has ultimately defeated death itself when he died and was resurrected. Dying should not scare us when our loving Father has already defeated death.
The problem is, it is easier to know these facts than it is to believe them fully. My grandfather believed them, and because of this he was able to die well. It wasn’t a graceful or elegant death by any means, but it was a good death. It was a good death because he had lived a good life. In my previous post I said that in order to truly live we have to learn how to die (to self and sin), and I think that the opposite is true as well. In order to die well we first need to learn how to live to Christ.
The lives and deaths of Christian martyrs throughout history are probably some of my favourite. It might be weird, having favourites when it comes to such a morbid subject, but I do, because these are people who really knew how to live. I love reading stories of people who give everything up to follow God into the unknown, and even into death. Stories about people doing things that would be completely impossible were it not for God. Stories about people who did not fear death because they know that “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). I want to learn how to die in the same way that my favourite martyrs have died over the years; with a peace that transcends all understanding, and forgiveness in their hearts for the people who are putting them to death. I can’t say that I am there yet but I am slowly learning. I am learning that I need to give my life over to Christ completely so that it will no longer be I who lives but rather Christ who live through me, so that when I die I will die with Christ (who died the greatest death of all) at my side, coaching me through the whole thing.
So I urge you, and plead with you, to live well for Christ so that one day as you lie on your deathbed you can say (with overwhelming peace in your failing heart, incredible courage in your brittle bones, and a massive smile on your wrinkly face), “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).