Tag Archives: fear

If Christians believe in heaven, why do we still fear death?

Christians believe that when we die we will be resurrected with new bodies. But just like other people, we try to avoid it.

Change can be unnerving, and death is the ultimate unknown. We spend our entire lives investing ourselves in this world, assuming that our investment is meaningful. Death challenges that investment. It seems to deny the ultimate value of careers, possessions, friends, and families. Christians have to face this harsh reality just as much as unbelievers, and while faith in resurrection offers comfort, it isn’t easy to imagine how a future life can offer continuity with our investment in this one.

As human beings, resistance to death is physically and instinctively ingrained in us. Recently our family made the difficult decision to euthanize a pet terrier dying painfully of cancer. As I cuddled her in my arms, the veterinarian gave her an injection of anesthesia to relax her and put her to sleep in preparation for the fatal dose of barbiturate that would follow. She was afraid. She fought the drug’s relaxing effect, looking at me and making heart-rending sounds.

Deeply bonded with our little dog, I rocked her like a child until she gave in to the medication and fell asleep. It wasn’t easy. Knowing that life was departing from a little creature that was a cherished part of our family for nearly twenty years brought deep feelings of sadness and loss. Yet losing our little terrier, Effie, didn’t compare to the loss of parents and other human relatives we had experienced in recent years.

Humans easily overlook how much of our experience isn’t under rational control. Our emotional life (including our affection, joy, anger, and fear) is as influenced by instinct and hormones as by imagination and reason. The life within us, like that in our little terrier, reflexively seeks to avoid death. Our hopes and beliefs transcend death, but as physical creatures, we resist it.

Death reduces living bodies to physical objects—soon to become decaying corpses. It mocks relationships, personhood, and hopes (John 11:38–39). Facing the ugly physical and emotional reality of a close friend’s death, Jesus wept (John 11:32–25). The apostle Paul viewed death with such seriousness that he referred to it as the “last enemy” that the kingdom of Christ will overcome (1 Corinthians 15:25–26). Even when Christians approach death with faith and hope that has been reinforced by God’s faithfulness through a lifetime of experiences, facing such a hideous enemy is never just a dispassionate decision. It is a time for courage.

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Why do some church people seem so “phony?”

One answer is fear. Every church is comprised of ordinary human beings, but we often refuse to acknowledge our similarities to each other. We feel as though we ought to rise above our problems—especially temptations.

Yet so often we don’t. And so we regularly fake it for fear of what people will think. We fear that others might pull away from us if they knew the worst about us. This, of course, leads to hypocrisy.

While Jesus hates hypocrisy, he loves us. And so he told us: “Don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly … where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”[1] He also said, “When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do.”[2] Jesus was warning us about religious people who valued how they looked more than they valued their relationship to God and to each other.

Can we get past the fear that isolates us and turns us into hypocrites? Yes, but it starts with dangerous honesty.

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is its honesty about its “heroes.” Noah got so drunk he passed out. Abraham was willing to let another man take his wife (twice!) until God intervened. Moses’ anger turned into murder. David had an affair with a married woman and then orchestrated her husband’s death in battle. Yet Hebrews 11 points to these individuals as heroes of the faith. They were ordinary people with big flaws and genuine faith.

The apostle Paul wrote openly about his struggles. “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’” he wrote, “and I am the worst of them all.”[3] In another letter he admitted, “I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”[4] This caused him to exclaim, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”[5]

Our faith should be public, but it shouldn’t look “religious.” We are called to be followers of Jesus, even though we won’t follow Him perfectly. And church, of all places, should be a safe environment where we can admit our imperfections, our struggles, our addictions, and our tendency to fail. In other words, it’s a place where we hypocrites can be honest—even about our hypocrisy.

This question Why do church people seem so fake? is rooted in a stereotype. Surely many church attenders are fake. But most of us realize we are on a spiritual journey that started when we turned to Jesus in faith. Our part is to admit our own hypocrisy, ask God to change us, and let our own example of honesty become part of the solution, not a perpetuation of the problem.

[1] Matthew 6:5

[2] Matthew 6:16

[3] 1 Timothy 1:15

[4] Romans 7:15

[5] Romans 7:24–25

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What Is a Godly Response to Domestic Abuse for an Abused Wife?

Domestic abuse is a one-sided relationship where a spouse regularly seeks to control and punish his or her partner. The most common sort of spousal abuse is that of the husband toward the wife. The abuse can take many forms: verbal, physical, psychological, sexual, and financial. These are the primary methods a man uses to dominate his spouse.

Regardless of the form of abuse, there are no easy answers for a wife whose husband regularly abuses her. Financial concerns, intimidating threats, personal doubts, and a husband’s ability to hide the abuse or make her feel responsibile (when she most certainly is not) are just some of the factors that leave hurting and scared wives feeling cornered with few, if any, options.

As trapped as a wife may feel, she is always free to choose the option of love. Sadly, however, too many have been taught that showing love means that a wife should passively tolerate her husband’s abuse. Love is misunderstood as getting along and not upsetting one’s husband. But a weak, fearful, compliant response usually enables her husband in his abusive patterns. Meek compliance on her part is not best for either of them. Nor does it serve the larger good of a godly marriage. Therefore, it’s not loving.

The Bible says that showing genuine love is to “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” ( Romans 12:9 NIV). In other words, a loving reaction is both compassionate and strong. Although her husband may not see it this way, an abused wife can show that she cares for her husband by sending the strong and consistent message that she will give him consequences for his abusive words and behavior.

A consequence is something that a wife decides to do. It’s not something that she tries to make her husband do. Consequences vary depending on the seriousness of the situation. For instance, a verbally abusive episode (although still serious) often calls for her to simply end the conversation after informing her husband that she won’t continue to talk with him as long as he remains controlling or disrespectful. Situations involving physical abuse may require calling the police and pressing charges. In other cases where there is a longstanding and oppressive pattern of emotional/verbal abuse, legal separation and even divorce are legitimate options to consider, but only as a last resort.

An abused wife shouldn’t expect the situation to turn around quickly. Many abusive husbands apologize and act remorseful, but a wife shouldn’t be misled. An abusive husband’s quick remorse is often just another ploy to regain control. Other men don’t apologize at all and resist admitting the harm they are causing. They continue to minimize their sin and put the blame on others. It frequently requires an abusive husband to undergo an extended time of his own personal suffering before he will come to his senses and begin the long and difficult process of understanding and owning the damage he’s caused. Therefore, a wife committed to loving her husband should be prepared to stand her ground for a long period of time while her husband learns necessary lessons from the consequences he is suffering for his sinful behavior.

An abused wife shouldn’t try to give consequences without help. Confronting her husband without a plan or physical protection can be a grave mistake. It will likely cause her husband to feel threatened. He is used to being in control and giving him negative consequences takes that control away. Therefore, a wife should prepare for the possibility that her husband could resort to physical intimidation and violence to regain control. She needs a plan that would help ensure her safety For example, having several friends present at a point of confrontation, having an escape plan or an alternate place for her and her children to go stay, notifying the police, obtaining a restraining order.

A wife has no assurances that his suffering the consequences will wake up her husband, end the abuse, or resolve their marital problems. She can, however, begin to love as Christ loved as she gradually begins to rest in the fact that God desires what is best for her. It may take a fairly long time to really believe this, but God is there to empower her to show love, to comfort her with love, and enliven her with a purpose for her own life no matter what happens ( Psalm 23:4 ). Her heart can begin to gain a growing confidence and peace that says, “I’m not totally powerless. I’m free to love. And although it may not work out between my husband and me, I am confident that it will work out between God and me.”

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If Christians Believe in Heaven, Why Do They Fear Death?

Every living creature instinctively fears death. Like everyone, Christians are human, and like everyone, they fear dying. In crisis situations, fear of death is important to survival. An animal species that lacks an instinctive fear of death won’t survive even a few generations. Therefore it’s normal for all creatures to fear death. Healthy people spend a lifetime doing their best to avoid it. Surrendering to death without a struggle is inherently unnatural.

Humans weren’t originally created to experience death. They were created for life. Death is a process that came as the result of sin (Genesis 3:19 ). According to Paul, death is the “last enemy”:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26 NRSV).

It’s probably good that we retain our instinctive fear of death. After all, we have work for God’s kingdom to do in this world. If we had no fear of death, we might become so fanatical in our pursuit of death that we wouldn’t be willing to face the serious problems this world sets before us.

Our awareness of our mortality may also temper our arrogance and make us more sensitive to the instruction of God’s Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, the apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (NKJV).

Near the close of the wonderful classic Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan captures the normal fear of death in his description of Christian approaching the river:

Now I further saw, that betwixt them and the gate was a river; but there was no bridge to go over, and the river was very deep. At the sight, therefore, of this river, the pilgrims were much stunned; but the men that went with them said, You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate.

The pilgrims then began to inquire if there was no other way to the gate. To which they answered, Yes; but there hath not any, save two, to wit, Enoch and Elijah, been permitted to tread that path since the foundation of the world, nor shall until the last trumpet shall sound.

The pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their mind, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the river. Then they asked the men if the waters were all of a depth. They said, No; yet they could not help them in that case; for, said they, you shall find it deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place.

Then they addressed themselves to the water, and entering, Christian began to sink, and [cried out to] his good friend Hopeful. . . .

Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother: I feel the bottom, and it is good. (Pilgrim’s Progress, pp. 87-88)

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Is It Normal for a Christian to Feel Stressed Out?

Everyone experiences stress. It is a normal part of life, the result of living in a fallen world under the effect of sin’s curse.

1 Everyone—both Christians and unbelievers—faces problems and hardships that simply occur in their lives. Rude drivers, illness, gossiping acquaintances, pressures on the job, and many other circumstances of life at times make it hard to be calm and self-controlled.

Even though some look for a faith that bypasses stress, stress is actually an unavoidable accompaniment of both spiritual growth and regression. Although faith enables us to deal with the pressures of stress, it doesn’t eliminate them.

When we hold ourselves accountable to God’s standards, we sometimes find ourselves with more awareness of stress than if we were not a child of God. As members of God’s family we are led by the Holy Spirit to acknowledge past sins and failures and come to terms with ways in which we have hurt one another and dishonored God. The sins of unbelievers have consequences, of course, but the sins themselves are less likely to be the cause of serious regret or sorrow. In the short term, life is simpler for people who aren’t aware of the depth of their depravity and in turn are able to rationalize their sins. (See the ATQ article Why Do Morally Unprincipled People Prosper?)2 Consider for instance a word picture, which at first does not seem to have anything to do with stress until we look at it more closely. In Ephesians 5:14 Apostle Paul refers to what may have been an early Christian hymn already in common use:

“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

This quotation uses two striking images to describe the spiritual changes that occur in the transition from unbelief to faith in Christ. Unbelievers are like sleepers (“Wake up, O sleeper”) or the dead (“rise from the dead.”)

On waking, dreams and fantasies are quickly replaced with consciousness of a reality that is much more demanding. And rising from the dead? It is disturbing even to consider the kind of consciousness that might accompany the return of life to the decaying flesh of a corpse.

Just as warmth can’t dispel the numbness of frost-bitten hands without pain, Christians can’t expect spiritual growth without stress. Spiritual growth only occurs when we are ready to follow a Master who commands we radically reexamine the assumptions of our former life. Jesus said that all of his disciples must we willing to take up his cross and follow Him (Matthew 10:38), and Paul vividly described the reality of stress experienced in the course of Christian service:

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 ).

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

So it isn’t abnormal for a Christian to feel stressed out. Far from it. But stress for Christians is accompanied with purpose and hope that reinforces and strengthens faith.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:1-5).

“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:5-7).

  1. “To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it,” Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return’ ” (Genesis 3:17-19 NIV). Back To Article
  2. Although Christians have forgiveness for sin, genuine sorrow for personal sin and harm done to others is an unavoidable aspect of spiritual growth. Back To Article
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