Tag Archives: death

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 did God Give our Pets Such Short Life Spans?

Although land tortoises can live over 150 years and parrots sometimes live as long as people, most pets have short life spans Perhaps the Lord gave our pets short life spans to keep us from getting more attached to them than to our fellow human beings. Since the love of some intelligent pets for their human masters is remarkably unconditional, they often establish a deep emotional connection with us. In fact, we sometimes find it easier to love them unconditionally than each other.

The emotional impact of the death of a family’s pet is like the loss of any family member, though on a lesser scale. It offers opportunities for learning important lessons in preparation for future losses that will be worse. The grief at a pet’s death can bring an awareness of our need for deeper relationships with the people in our lives.

 

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Does the Bible Assure We Will Reunite with Loved Ones Who Preceded Us in Death?

The Bible doesn’t offer any details about relationships in heaven. Based on the words of Jesus and the New Testament writers, we can be confident that heaven will be a far better place than anything we have experienced in this life and will include reunion with people we love.

The rich man recognized Lazarus even though they were in different places and separated by a great gulf (Luke 16:19-31). The disciples recognized Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration, though the two great prophets lived many centuries earlier (Matthew 17:1-5). Jesus told the repentant thief in Luke 23:43, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (nkjv). The apostle Paul said that we will someday have more knowledge than we have now, implying that we will have greater knowledge of other people than now (1 Corinthians 13:12). He also said that it is “far better” to depart and to be with Christ than to remain on earth (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:22-23).

Christ will be the heavenly Bridegroom and believers will fellowship with Him as His bride (Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:7-9). There will be no marriage or reproduction in heaven (Matthew 22:23-33), but the fact that God will resurrect us as individuals (See the ATQ article, Does God Value Individuality?) implies we will recognize each other as individuals and remember earthly relationships.

We will no longer need the exclusive relationships that protect us from loneliness and despair in this fallen world, but since heaven is a place of greater and fuller experience than our current life, we will still know and cherish our earthly loved ones. The joys and ecstasy of marital and family love will be far surpassed by perfect intimacy and trust. Perfected bodies and minds will find fulfillment in perfected relationships and a full sense of heavenly joy and gratitude to God.

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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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Should I Feel Guilty About Grieving My Dog’s Death?

You shouldn’t feel guilty that you are grieving. We might be saddened or distressed when we break a valuable heirloom or lose a valuable antique in a fire. But grief at the death of a pet dog is—and should be—deeper. A dog may not be “worth” nearly as much in dollars as an antique, but the real value of your dog is not monetary. Dogs aren’t things; they’re companions. They’re not man-made objects, but masterpieces of the Creator, conscious beings with souls.

1 Although they aren’t created in God’s image like human beings, higher animals share many remarkable qualities in common with us. They exhibit emotions like joy, loyalty, affection, and courage. They also teach us much how to live fully in the present moment and enjoy the beautiful world that God has made.

Grief for a pet dog is real because the relationship between master and dog is real. God established the relationship between human beings and His other creatures (Genesis 2:19-20; Psalm 8:4-8). There are ways in which a pet dog in its innocence can be our “best friend,” touchingly responsive to our moods and emotions.

The emotional impact a family dog’s death is similar to the loss of any family member, although on a lesser scale. It should be taken seriously, because it offers opportunities for learning important lessons and preparing for future losses that will be worse.

We often find it easier to love our pets unconditionally than it is to love each other. If our sense of loss at the death of a pet is more severe than the sense of loss of human friends and relatives who have died, we should consider why. Even in a world cursed with sin, we should miss human relationships more than relationships with pets. In this sense, the grief at a pet’s death can bring an awareness of our need for deeper relationships with the people in our lives.

Because the loss is real, it is not healthy to suppress and deny your grief.2 Openly express your grief when alone or in the presence of others who understand. Realize that grief at the death of an animal that has shared your life experiences for years will be painful, and any attempt to deny it will have negative consequences.

Don’t try to forget the relationship that you had with your dog any more than you would try to forget the relationship with a human loved one who has died. We gain some sense of God’s immense sadness at the suffering and evil in the world when we realize that the Bible offers no indication that we will ever be reunited with the animals that mean so much to us in this world.

  1. The Hebrew word nephesh implies conscious life as distinguished from plants, which have unconscious life. In the sense of conscious life, an animal also has a soul. The word creature in Genesis 1:24 is from the Hebrew word nephesh. This word could be defined as a “breathing creature or animal” and designates the life principle in man and animals. Back To Article
  2. Although grief at an animal’s death is not unhealthy, some expressions of grief can be. Some people spend exorbitant amounts of money on pet memorials, or even have their pet’s body mounted by a taxidermist. These are reactions that show either that the animal is being valued more highly than people, or that it is being objectified in a way that overlooks the reasons we were attached to it in the first place. Back To Article
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