Updated: Jan 12
The photo above is striking; at least it is for me. It depicts one of the most famous scenes, from one of the most famous plays, in the history of Western Civilization. The sculptor captures the moment when Hamlet asks: "To be, or not to be, that is the question."
Hamlet is struggling with whether or not to live or die.
I want to share with you a few thoughts about another question relating to our mortality:
What is a good death?
Initially, we might think that a good death is one that is relatively quick and easy (painless). However, from the Biblical perspective, there is only one type of good death. I will get to this later.
I have now served at Our Saviour's for fifteen-and-a-half years. During this time, I've officiated at somewhere close to 125 funerals. And now, in the first week of 2022, we've experienced the death of three men in the congregation.
I've been with a number of individuals on their final day. I've been with men and women when they've taken their final breath. I've been alone in a hospital room with the body of the deceased, waiting for family members to arrive.
In most cases today, we can see death approaching from a distance. A loved one's health begins to fail as they grow older, or they are diagnosed with a terminal illness.
In some instances, death is sudden, as with a heart attack or car accident; while such ends may be quick, they are definitely not easy or painless.
Why am I sharing this with you? I'm sharing it because we need to confront death head on. We need to know what a good death is, and isn't.
People handle dying differently. Lil and Bud Frank taught me this. As a matter of fact, I spoke about this at some length during my funeral message for Bud this past Saturday. (The sermon is at the 30 minute mark of the video.)
In each of the four accounts of the Gospel, we see depictions of how Jesus faced his own death.
However, for me, one of the most powerful accounts of Jesus' death is found in the book of Hebrews:
"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him".
Earlier in Hebrews we read:
"Since the children have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people."
This leads back to the question at hand. What is a good death?
Biblically speaking, there is only one good death. This point is driven home time and time again in the Word of God.
In John 11, as He approached Lazarus' tomb, Jesus declared: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live, even though they die. And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Earlier, in John 5, Jesus testified: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned. They have crossed over from death to life."
A good death is one in which we die in the Lord. A bad death is just the opposite. The apostle John makes this clear:
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them" (John 3:36).
"God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." (1 John 5:11b-12)
The good news for the Christian is this: "If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life, so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living" (Romans 14:8-9).
In 2007 I read an outstanding article regarding Martin Luther's advice on preparing for death. Here is a link to it. I strongly encourage you to take time to read it: