There’s an old expression: “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to go tomorrow.”
This silly quip tells us a lot about ourselves. First, it tells us that each of us knows deep down that we are going to die someday. Second, when that day finally arrives, we would much rather spend eternity in Heaven than in the alternative. Next, this expression is humorous because it highlights the truth that we don’t want our inevitable death to occur anytime soon. Finally, we’re reminded that life here on earth is precious, while death is frightening.
The proper Christian view of death is that it is indeed inevitable, but it should not be frightening for those who trust in Christ. The words of Jesus in the Gospels, plus the writings of St. Paul, make it clear that death is a transition from our earthly struggles to the much more glorious joy of God’s eternal kingdom.
Life here on earth, despite its pain and heartache, is a very precious gift from God. Life never should be taken lightly, and certainly never should be ended prematurely. Human life is sacred, from the moment of conception until natural death.
Our secular culture has the wrong view of death. Mostly, we ignore death as if it doesn’t even exist. We do everything we can to pretend we’re going to live forever, and when someone does die, we’re shocked and can’t even bring ourselves to use the words “death” or “died.” We instead say the person “passed away,” or “expired,” or “succumbed.” Recently, I heard someone say, “We lost Frank back in March.” You lost Frank? Well, shouldn’t you go look for him? Or at least file a missing person report with the police?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should be thrilled when someone dies, especially when it’s unexpected. And we’re not supposed to throw a party if the doctor tells us we have a terminal disease. Death is definitely a sad event. The main reason it’s sad is because death is the end of our earthly life, which is, as I already mentioned, a precious gift.
In recent months, most of us have been confronted with death much more frequently than in normal times. The COVID-19 health crisis has made death the lead story on every newscast since early March. On a daily basis we get the latest updates about how many people died in our community, in our state, in our country, and throughout the world. Although the numbers aren’t in the Bubonic Plague category, it’s a fact that tens of thousands of Americans died because of the coronavirus, most of whom would still be alive today except for that nasty disease.
It’s quite likely this pandemic has caused many folks to think about death for the first time in years. That’s a good thing. Death should never be ignored, as our culture has tried desperately to do during the past half century or so.
Of course, it’s not healthy to dwell on the subject and obsess about dying. That’s morbid and will drain all the joy out of living. But ignoring death is foolish, too. We should accept that death is real and it will happen to every single one of us. That’s an undeniable fact.
Knowing that death is real and inevitable will help us to remember that life is fleeting. And since life is sacred and precious, we must cherish each and every moment we’ve been given.
Death is the ultimate mystery, but we need not be fearful. Why? Because Jesus conquered death. If we trust in Him, our last day on earth will be our first day in His glorious kingdom.
We should cherish life and not fear death. Even though we desire to go to Heaven, God understands if we don’t really want to go tomorrow.
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Note: please consider reading Scott Hahn’s new book, Hope to Die – The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body. A very timely topic in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.