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Views of Death Believers vs Non-Believers

[Artwork Note: This was my first attempt with charcoal.  I don't remember the exact circumstances surrounding this drawing, but I must have been in a valley rather than on a mountain at the time.  Written: 2007]

Death Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live".  (John 11:25  NKJV)

CS Lewis once said that there's a very good chance that all of us will die, so far the odds are one out of one.  This page looks at how believers and non-believers view death.

Differing Views on Death

Almost all of us think about death at one time or another.  I believe  that our worldview greatly affects how we view our own death and the deaths of others, and that, as a whole, non-believers view death much differently than Christians.

While an unsaved person may be in denial, or view death similar to the drawing above, most Christians view death as our friend.  This is not to say that most Christians look forward to the act of dying (or the death of a loved one), but that we realize that our physical death is just the beginning of our real life in our real home (heaven).  Paul probably stated our dilemma best in his letter to the Philippians:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  (Php 1:20-24)

 We know we can't go to heaven in our present body (1Co 15:50), so death rescues us from the endless existence of our sinful state. 

A Non-Believer's View on Life and Death

The following is an excerpt from an unbeliever, W.O. Saunders, as he writes about the life of an agnostic in the American Magazine (November, 1930):

I would like to introduce you to one of the lonesomest and unhappiest individuals on earth, I am talking about the man who does not believe in God.  I can introduce you to such a man because I myself am one, and in introducing myself, you shall have an introduction to the agnostic or skeptic in your own neighborhood, for he is everywhere in the land.  You will be surprised to know that the agnostic envies your faith in God, your settled belief in a heaven after life, and your blessed assurance that you will meet your loved ones in an afterlife where there will be neither sadness or pain.  He would give anything to be able to embrace that faith and be comforted by it, but for him, there is only the grave and persistence of matter.  After the grave, all he can see is the disintegration of protoplasm of which my body and personality are composed, but in this materialistic view, I find neither ecstasy nor happiness.

The agnostic may face life with a smile and heroic attitude, putting on  a brave front, but he is not happy.  He stands in awe and reverence before the vastness and majesty of the universe, know not whence he came or why.  He is appalled at the infinitude of time and space, humiliated by the infinite smallness of himself, aware of his own frailty, weakness and brevity.  He too carries a cross.   For him, this earth is but a tricky raft adrift in the unfathomable waters of eternity with no horizon in site.  His heart aches for every precious life upon the raft... drifting, drifting, drifting, whither no one knows.

Hopelessness  of Non-Believers

Someone once said "I've seen enough people die to know that there is a remarkable difference between an evangelical Christian and anyone else".  What follows are some last words of a few unbelievers:

Voltaire (French philosopher, died 1778):  Voltaire once said of Jesus Christ, "Curse the wretch. In 20 years, Christianity will be no more.  I will single handedly destroy what it took 12 apostles to build."   The physician Trochim, attending Voltaire at his death, said that he cried out in desperation, "O Christ, O Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.  I am abandoned by God and man.  I shall go to Hell!"  The physician recalled "The death of this infidel was a scene of horror that lay beyond the power of all exaggeration.  A nurse who was present is reported to have said "I would not want to see another atheist die, even for all the wealth in Europe."

David Hume (Atheist and historian):  Hume died in awful despair in 1776, crying out  "I am in the flames!"

Thomas Paine (author of The Age of Reason, which expressed his disbelief in Christ and attacked the scriptures):  Upon his death in 1809, he said "I would give worlds, if I had them, if the Age of Reason had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! Stay with me! It is hell to be left alone!"

Sir Francis Newport (Earl of Bradford)  To the fellow infidels gathered around his deathbed, he said "You need not tell me there is no God for I know there is one, and that I am in His presence! You need not tell me there is no hell. I feel myself already slipping. Wretches, cease your idle talk about there being hope for me! I know I am lost forever! Oh, that fire! Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell!"

Mohandas  Gandhi (Hindu spiritual leader):  For years, Ghandi taught about how Hinduism filled his soul and gave him peace, but shortly before  his death, he wrote,  "My days are numbered. I am not likely to live very long, perhaps a year or a little more. For the first time in fifty years I find myself in the slough of despond. All about me is darkness; I am praying for light."

Words from a Skeptic

Before we get to some quotes from believers, the following famous words were spoken by a grieving skeptic, Robert Ingersoll at his brother's grave on June 2, 1879:

Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities.  We strive in the vale to look beyond the heights.  We cry aloud... and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry.  From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word.

But in the light of death, Hope sees a star and, listening, Love can hear the rustling of a wing.  He who sleeps here when dying, mistaking the approach of death for the return of health, whispered with his latest breath. "I am better now".

Let us believe, in spite of doubts and fears, that these dear words are true of all the countless dead.  Hope lights a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

Christian Views on Death

One of my heroes of the faith, the great pastor D James Kennedy, recently left his earthly body and went home to the Lord.  In a sermon offered a few years ago, he spoke these words:

Now, I know that someday I am going to come to what some people will say is the end of this life. They will probably put me in a box and roll me right down here in front of the church, and some people will gather around, and a few people will cry. But I have told them not to do that because I don't want them to cry. I want them to begin the service with the Doxology and end with the Hallelujah chorus, because I am not going to be there, and I am not going to be dead. I will be more alive than I have ever been in my life, and I will be looking down upon you poor people who are still in the land of dying and have not yet joined me in the land of the living. And I will be alive forevermore, in greater health and vitality and joy than ever I or anyone has known before.

Now let's contrast the hopelessness of non-believers with the assuredness of the last words from a few Christians. 

Dwight L. Moody, the evangelist, died gloriously: "This is my coronation day. If this is death, it is sweet!"

A.J. Gordon (minister and author):  The founder of Gordon College in Massachusetts became suddenly ill with influenza and bronchitis and on February 2, 1895, was asked to say a few words by those gathered around his bed.  He was extremely weak, but gathered up the energy to say "Victory!", and then he died.

August Toplady (minister and hymn writer):  Just before he died, this author of Rock of Ages said "Oh what delights.  Who can fathom the joy of Heaven.  No mortal man can live after the glories which God has manifested to my soul this day."  As he drifted off, his final words were "All is Light."

John Huss, (reformer and martyr):  When asked by the Duke of Bavaria to recant in order to avoid being burned at the stake, Huss replied "What I taught with my lips, I seal with my blood."

The Apostle Paul: "I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2Tim 4:6-8)

Jesus Christ:  "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit".

And finally, the following prayer from Martin Luther in 1546, when he noticed that his hour had come:

O my heavenly Father, One God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, God of all comfort, I thank You that You have revealed to me your dear Son, Jesus Christ, in whom I believe, whom I have preached and confessed, and whom I have loved and praised.  I implore you, my Lord Jesus Christ, let my little soul be commended to you.

O heavenly Father, although I must leave this body and be snatched away from this life, I am, nevertheless, certain that I will remain with you eternally and that no one will tear me out of your hands.

(And then he said three times):  Into your Hands I commend my spirit.  You have redeemed me, my faithful God.  My hope for eternal life is found in this: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all who believe in Him will not be lost but have eternal life."

He then folded his hands and gave up his spirit to Christ with a peaceful expression on his face.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"  (1Cor 15:54-55)

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