"Some people are afraid of death. I'm not sure but I am. I always think of what's going to happen when I die. Where am I going to go. I gest so scared. I'm not sure where I'm going to go anymore. That feeling is always stuck on my mind. I can't get rid of it. Do you think that way sometimes? Are you afraid?"
This was a question I was handed the other day on a piece of paper. It was anynomous and it requested I send the answer in an email. I thought I would share it here because these thoughts probably swirl in the mind of many people, including my own.
The fear of death is probably one of the most basic instincts of human fallenness. The fear of "nothingness" or "non-being" or something worse pervades human consciousness. Everyone, I dare say, experiences it. The night before my open heart surgery I remember anxious feelings about the unknown and the potential of death.
Death reigns in our world. Everyone dies. Death surrounds us. We can't escape it and so we fear it. It has a power over us--physically but also pyschologically, and more significantly, spiritually.
So, where do we turn when we feel this anxiety? Do we simply "get a hold of ourselves" and snap our thinking back into "right thinking"? Do we introspectively analyze our feelings and seek some kind of therapeutic resolution? I don't think either of those is very effective. They may bring momentary relief, but the reality of death is overwhelming and powerful.
Ultimately, we must look outwards. We must look beyond ourselves. Looking inward only creates more doubt as we see our own frailities and failings. We need to look at what God has done, how he has acted to redeem, and how he has acted against death.
Jesus came to liberate us not only from death itself, but from the fear of death and its existential bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15). The work of Christ has death--in all its aspects--in its crosshairs. It is the enemy Christ intends to conquer and defeat. Jesus conquers the fear of death and defeats its reality.
We can intellectually recognize this but emotionally embracing it despite our weaknesses and failures is much more difficult. Perhaps our problem is not so much believing that Jesus defeated death as it is believing that we are included in Jesus' defeat of death. Our problem is more existential than intellectual (though there are intellectual issues that are dubitable as well).
Emotionally we need to turn from introspection (e.g., constantly recounting our weaknesses and failures) to trusting acceptance of the work of Christ (e.g., faith in what God has done in Christ). We don't trust in ourselves, but we trust in God's work. Moving from fear to faith is a process. We should not expect instanteous faith nor a faith totally perfected by the complete absence of fear. It is a journey that we all share.
Fear is natural. Faith is unnatural. The movement from fear to faith involves a trust in the work of Christ, involvement in a community of faith that encourages and supports, and perseverance in the face of trials and troubles.
The night before my open heart surgery I had to face some fears. They were real. But here is what I did with them. I took my fear before God and confessed to God that I was afraid. I turned away from my weaknesses and rested in the confidence that God loved me despite my weaknesses. I focused on what God had done for me rather than whether I was good enough for God.
God loved us even when we were his enemies. He still loves us. If we seek him, he will find us. This is our confidence, and that confidence can overcome fear....but it is a confidence that comes through the process of walking with God together with others over time.