My 5 year old granddaughter mentioned that she wanted to die because that would mean she would be with Jesus. It got me to thinking why there are so many promises of long life in the Bible. If dying means going to heaven and being with Jesus why would we desire so strongly a long life on earth? In fact, some of the elderly people in my church have commented that being alive is better than the alternative. I am puzzled as to why we usually so much want to stay alive here on earth. Paul said in Philippians that to die was to gain.
@clou Great question. I think that one way to approach this question is to look through the lens of four different periods of history - the Garden of Eden, the OT, the NT and New Heavens and New Earth. Stepping through each of these phases in history provides a fuller appreciation for the goodness of God’s created world, the glory of the new creation and how we live in this shadow land in between. It also reveals why people want to remain on earth - because as broken as this world is it still contains a whisper of Eden - a whisper of God’s beauty. But sometimes people mistake that whisper for the real thing.
1 - God’s Good Creation
God created the world for us to rule and enjoy. We were His servants - to keep it and to love God / one another. Imagine the beauty of living in the Garden - walking with God, harvesting food, enjoying meaningful work, having fellowship with other people.
2 - The Shadow Land of Death - the Old Testament
Even though violence, death and disease have entered in to man’s reality - in the OT God still promises Israel a Promised Land - a nation where His goodness an once again dwell - a restored Eden in a sense. He would provide rain, food, children and a life filled with the joy of Eden. God desired to draw humanity into the blessings of Eden once more through the nation of Israel.
But as we see in the OT - sin constantly separates people from God and keeps them from truly inheriting the Promised Land. In addition, even blessed men like Abraham still met death in the end. That is why the author of Ecclesiastes said “All is meaningless…” No matter how hard we labor - life comes to an end.
But for the OT saints - a peaceful life of honoring God and enjoying a large family - free from enemies and doing good for the oppressed - was the prophetic vision of a blessed life. They were still able to enjoy God’s good gifts on earth.
3 - The NT - Light has Dawned - A Vision and a Mission
When Jesus came, He was a light in the shadow land of death - a declaration that death was not the end - that God had made a way into a new life. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that leads to the Paradise of God - the true Promised Land.
So Paul says:
Philippians 1:23-26 - I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
But notice that Paul did not only want to depart and be with Christ - he had a mission from God. He wanted to serve others by declaring Christ and laying down his life just as Christ laid down His life.
4 - The New Creation / New Eden
Through Christ the world is restored to glory - we live in fellowship with God and free from the bondage of death, sin, shame and sorrow.
Now, what are some Biblical reasons we may want to remain on earth?
- To fulfill God’s mission (like the apostle Paul)
- To enjoy the good gifts God has given us
- Because God gives life and takes it away - that is His right, not ours, so we should server Him with thankfulness and joy until the day He calls us home
What are some maybe not so Biblical reasons for wanting to remain on earth? These are not all bad or even abnormal - perhaps just not the most Biblically rooted.
- Death is scary - it is the unknown. We naturally cling to the familiar and fear what we do not know.
- We love the world more than God and it is hard for us to trust Someone whom we do not know
- We are afraid for our family / we will miss those we love
- We will miss the places / things that we enjoy and, again, are going into the unknown
I hope that helped you think through why someone might want to stay on earth.
As a Christian, I think we enjoy God’s good gifts on earth, seek to achieve His mission and we do not fear death because Christ has defeated death - death is dead.
Ephesians 2:10 says - For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God has a purpose for each of our days - He knows the hairs on our head - and until He calls us home we can sing songs of thanksgiving, joy and love for His goodness to us in this crazy and beautiful world!
Awesome reply, Sean.
There seems to be a lot of things we are pre-wired for. We are wired to need God. We are wired to love and need love. And we are wired to love life and protect it.
So many of the laws given to Moses about God are about the sanctity of life and preserving it. It’s important to God, therefore it is important to us.
As Sean said we are here to fulfill a purpose.
Am re-reading Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose for Lent. Great wisdom in that book. Rick says there are three proper metaphors for how a Christian views life. 1) It’s a test. 2) It’s a trust. 3) It’s a temporary assignment.
When we’re in the middle of stress it is so tempting to long for our eternity with God. What we need to remember is that although we have not yet transitioned to the next stage, “in Christ” we are already in that eternity. I agree with Sean that our proper attitude should be to not fear death, but I will go a step further and saw we should not want death. If it’s not our time yet, then we need to face what we’re in the middle of with the confidence of what it’s ahead.
Let me share some personal testimony: My Dad spent about a year and a half going down hill with heart problems before his death. He had watched my sister valiantly fight cancer for six years with never a complaint, or a woe-is-me attitude, or ever a desire to get it over with. But now that he was sick in his late 80’s he was the opposite. “I just wanna die.” “Why won’t God take me?” “I’m no good to anyone.” “I can’t do anything anymore.” EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I asked him how he could even think about Janan (sister) and how she held onto every second of life with positivity and optimism, and not do likewise. But feeling he no longer had any value he just wanted to be gone. The good news is that it finally softened his heart and he confessed Jesus as his Lord and Savior not long before death. I think he just had to come to the end of himself before he could finally let go and let God. (Same with my sister, it took cancer to bring her to Jesus.)
So, I’ve seen close up two wholly different attitudes in the struggle for life and death. The good news is that no matter how my actions and attitudes end up when I’m facing that (and I won’t know 'til I get there), I’ll know I’m not alone.
This is an interesting topic. I’ve pondered this apparent paradox myself. On one hand the Bible tells us that a long life is a sign of God’s blessing, and on the other hand we know that it would be better for us to be absent from this body and to be present with the Lord. I’ve concluded that there must be a balance between these two concepts. We are to view are lives here as a gift from God, and then offer it back to Him as an offering, and an act of worship so He can use us to be a blessing to others and bring the gospel to the lost. But, we are also to maintain an understanding that this is not our home, and that our reward is in heaven. So, we are to do God’s work here without becoming attached to the things of this world.
I would only add to this discussion that your question, to me, falls into the ‘wisdom’ category. We learn a great deal of Biblical knowledge about the tension, but then we must build on that foundation by applying that knowledge to life. It is in the practice of living out faithfulness in the fear of the Lord that we grow in our wisdom.
When we are faced with these ‘contradictions’ we are being invited into maturity. I have known saints - like my grandparents - who ‘died well’. They ran through to the end, loving people with the most gracious kindness, yet they were filled with hope to be with their Savior. Their hope to be with Jesus was a fuel for the fullness with which they gave of themselves to others. They had found a beautiful way for these truths to come together into a Christlike posture to life. I hope this helps a bit.
Thanks everyone for all the thoughtful answers. I appreciate all the different perspectives plus the time you have taken to consider my questions!
Thank you for starting a great conversation!
I would affirm your granddaughters desire to be with God. I would let her know that she doesn’t have to wait to go heaven. That she can continue to have a relationship with God right now. I would also emphasizes that the Spirit of God lives in us. Romans 8:9. I would tell her how much she is loved and how much she would be missed. While God may call us home at anytime before then we are given the prescriptive teaching to do unto others which only leads me to think of how much of a wonderful impact your granddaughter could have on others. Her actions and life could lead others to Christ so that they too could have that strong desire to be close to Jesus. I would just want to add this simple bit to all the responses above to such a wonderful question.
Thanks so much! Your response resonated really well. Especially about having a relationship with God right now. I truly appreciate you taking the time to add your thoughts to the question.
Thanks again, Carol