ME: “Would you like to pass on your comments to the show host?” CALLER: “No, I’d freeze and make a fool of myself.”
That conversation happened yesterday while I was working from home. The caller offered her take on her phobia, “You know, fear of speaking in public is the second most common fear. Fear of death is number one.”
According the Chapman University survey, fear of death is sixth on the list. Fear of government corruption is number one followed by pollution. My caller was more accurate than the survey. We all fear death and need to fear death.
My mother will be 95 next month. If there were such a thing as a cloistered version of a protestant nun, it would be mom. But, like the rest of us, she is afraid of dying. The last living brother of my dad died away a few days ago. Uncle Telfer pastored pastors in the American Baptist Church. He was 89. Was he afraid of dying? Hopefully.
Being afraid of dying is a good thing. Why?
At the moment of our death we learn of our eternity. Our hope of eternity doesn’t become a certainty until our last breath.
The Catholic Catechism states: (At the moment of death) “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation. At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love. ”
I worry about my Christian brothers and sisters who say they “know that they know that they know they are saved.” In a strange way, they remind me of Thomas Jefferson who crossed out large chunks of the Bible because it contradicted his world view.
Thomas Aquinas referred to this kind of attitude as presumption. He writes: Moreover [presumption] is conformed to a false intellect, just as despair is: for just as it is false that God does not pardon the repentant, or that He does not turn sinners to repentance, so is it false that He grants forgiveness to those who persevere in their sins, and that He gives glory to those who cease from good works: and it is to this estimate that the movement of presumption is conformed. (cf. Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 21, a. 1)
There are a host of Bible verses that give me hope and certainty about my eternity.
One of my favorite verses is in Hebrews:
Hebrews 2:14-15, “Therefore, since the children have flesh and blood, He 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 the angels He helps, but the descendants of Abraham.
We have confidence in God placing our trust in His grace and power. None of us can ever be good enough for heaven.
If you have attended Church for more than a few Sunday, you have probably noticed the number of times peace is mentioned. Truth be told, one of the reasons I enjoyed liturgical worship is the number of times I receive peace during worship.
- “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.
- “Which we offer you firstly for your holy catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace,
- “Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family; order our days in your peace,
- “Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light and peace.
- “May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world.
- “Remember also those who have died in the peace of your Christ and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known.
- “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days,
- “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you;
- “The peace of the Lord be with you always
- “Let us offer each other the sign of peace.
- “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
- “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.
When we hear the Bible in the liturgy, the Psalmist and other authors share their own struggles and prayers for peace.
However, we encounter more than a few passages that should cause us to fear death and orientate our life more toward Christ (cf. Matt. 7:21-23; Matt. 10:22; John 5:29; Rom. 2:5-11; Rom. 8;24-25; 1 Cor. 9:27; 1 Cor. 10:12; Heb. 6:11; Phil. 2:12-13; 1 John 3:21-24; 1 John 4:20-21).
Does that mean I stay up worrying about whether or not God loves. Of course not. I’ve underlined Romans 8 as much as anyone.
Scripture gives us two ways to bolster our hope in knowing we have eternal life.
“Unless you eat my body…”: Is John 6:53Not sure how I missed that one. I know I have eternal life because I eat the body and blood of Christ. Everything flows from the Eucharist. John also adds works.But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. … And the world is passing, and its lust, but he that does the will of God abides for eternity. I John 2:17
Wait a second, how do you square those two ways with one of my other favorite verses, Ephesians 2:9,10? (“For by grace are you saved by faith not of works lest any man boast.”)
I am not sure I want to solve the faith vs. works battle. G.K. Chesterton referred to these as furious opposites:
God is Three and One.
God is holy and just and loving and merciful.
God forgives and God judges.
Jesus is fully divine and fully human.
We are full of dignity and depravity.
We are simultaneously justified and sinful (Luther).
We are body and soul.
God is sovereign and we are responsible.
God is sovereign and we have free will.
Do I know I have eternal life?
The best I can come up with is what Pope John 23 said, “I certainly hope so.” Anything more than that borders on presumption, aka as profanity (presumption before the temple).