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)