Learning How To Die

I didn’t come up with the title for this blog post; I actually stole it from one of my favorite Jon Foreman songs. You can listen to it here. When I first heard the song I was really captivated by the concept: Learning how to die. How can you learn how to die? And why would you want to? Death is something we fight against. Death is the enemy.

I’ve seen a handful of people take their last breaths. And I’ve had the privilege to walk closely with a few of these individuals on the days and weeks leading up to their death. Some people were afraid. Some people were ready. Some people were so medicated that they didn’t know what was going on.

Most of us are probably not facing the reality of imminent death. We are not terminally ill, and we aren’t scheduled for a death sentence. For us, death is some vague concept that we don’t need to think about right now.

Why is death so scary?
Death is so scary because it is the end of absolutely everything we know. Our relationships, our experiences, and our understandings end at death. Please don’t misunderstand me: I absolutely believe in the afterlife. But I do not believe the after life is just an improved version of our current lives. Heaven is not just a perfect neighborhood with better houses, better food, and better people. If my wife passes before me, I am certain she won’t be “waiting for me at the gates for me” as they say. I pray she will be preoccupied.

Death summons our entrance into a complete other. Heaven will be filled with things that our lives on earth were hardly reminiscent of. For example, the fact that marriage does not exist in heaven[1] should not be a sad thing, it just points to the fact that relational fulfillment will be so beyond anything we can understand that it could not be contained in marriage. But this is scary for us. It’s a mystery. We can’t know. We can’t understand.

Why do I need to learn how to die?
In my life, I’ve seen Christians speak of death one of two ways:

We make light of death.
We make jokes about dying. We don’t grieve. And we make funerals into celebrations.

Or

We run from death.
We treat “death” like a dirty word. We don’t want to talk about it or think about it.

These are both unhealthy approaches to death.

The first example is out of touch with reality. It doesn’t allow for proper grief and it doesn’t allow for honesty. It is a detached approach. Death sucks. It sucks for the person dying and it sucks for everyone who loves that person. There is a time to mourn,[2] and I can think of no better time than death.

The second example recognizes the reality of death, but runs from it. It is a fear-driven approach. This approach makes life harder, and it makes death really hard. We have not been given a spirit of fear,[3] and death is not something from which we need to run.[4]

How can I have a better death?
I’d like to think that we could have a better death by building a healthy relationship with death. This may sound morbid or morose, but it is a recurring theme in Scripture.[5] Most ancient people recognized this life as just a part of their story. Death has historically been viewed as either a passage to different life, a reuniting with ancestors, or an entrance into paradise. The human race recognized early on that they were going to die, so they did their best to make sense of it. Different cultures and religions all interpreted death in different ways, and most people agreed that death just couldn’t be the end.

In the resurrection of Jesus, death is defeated, and our ancient inclination has been confirmed! It doesn’t mean we don’t die. But it gives us a basis for this thing we’ve always known: death can’t be the end. In Jesus’ resurrection, we have resurrection. That’s good news. But unfortunately, we don’t know much more than that. We do our best to trust that his ways are better than ours, and that the next life will be unfathomably good, even though it’s wholly unfamiliar.

Living with death
Here are some ways I believe that we can live with death in a healthy way, and subsequently learn how to die.

Evaluate your attachment to the things in the world. This does not mean these things aren’t valuable. It simply means that our relationship with these things will be really different after we die. And we need to be ok with that.

Pray through and prepare for death. Ask God to teach you how to die. He can calm your fears. He can guide you out of this earthly life.

Recognize death as a part of life. While death is the end of all we know, it’s not the end. This life is just a small part of our existence. The more we embrace that reality, the better our transition will be.

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[1] Matthew 22:30

[2] Ecclesiastes 3:4

[3] 2 Timothy 1:7

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:8

[5] Romans 14:8

One Comment

  1. Jose Rene Tanoy

    Hi AJ! I like the way you presented death in this blog. This is my first time to read a blog on death and I was quite relieved. Aside from your catchy title, I like the placement of your references.

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