A STUDY OF THE BIBLE
A STUDY OF DEATH AND DYING
Let Death Teach You How to Live
WEDNESDAY BIBLE STUDY AT 7:00 P.M.
A STUDY OF THE BIBLE
LET DEATH TEACH YOU HOW TO LIVE
(Why Hope Prevails When Bodies Fail)
God’s Care for His Aging Saints
We have limited, and sometimes no, control over how gracefully our bodies and minds age. But if we know the Savior’s care for us, and if we believe that he will give grace for every need, then we will rest in the arms of the one who carries us even to our old age (Isaiah 46:3–4). The grace of God enables us to age gracefully. The gospel empowers us to face old age with a firm belief in God’s unchanging care for us — not only his care for our souls, but also his care for our bodies.
The Bible gives a poetic description of our aging bodies (Ecclesiastes 12:1–7). What happens when the days of our youth are gone? We will be bent with old age. Strength will fail, teeth will be missing, sight will falter. In Psalm 71, the psalmist gives voice to the fear we can experience when we think about growing old. He cries to the Lord, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (Psalm 71:9). In 2 Corinthians 4:16–18, Paul calls it outwardly wasting away.
For many, the difficulties of aging lead to despair. Grief and anxiety overtake us. We quickly become disoriented. But as life’s chapters begin to close, our union with Christ orients us to what is real. For those in Christ, aging is more about hope than fear, more about honor than dishonor, more about holiness than decay, more about gain than loss.
The realities of aging can fortify our hope by causing us to fix our eyes on the bright future Christ has for us.
Nothing a Good Resurrection Can’t Fix
There is a tendency among some Christians to devalue the importance of the body, denigrating the physical and elevating the spiritual. But the gospel brings the good news that God became man in Christ in order to secure a full salvation for his people, including resurrection, healing, and eternal life for our bodies. In this life, our bodies are weak and our capacities diminish over time. Perhaps your body is currently failing you, and you fear that things will only get worse. The best thing we can do is to look beyond old age, beyond the grave, to the return of Christ and the future of our bodies.
D.A. Carson once said, “I’m not suffering from anything that a good resurrection can’t fix.” That is incredibly good news for us all. Imagine a body with no sickness, no disease, no fragility, no limping, no aches, no allergies, no physical or mental impairments.
Paul says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20–21). He says this bodily transformation, “the redemption of our bodies,” is the great triumph of the gospel and the hope in which we are saved (Romans 8:23–24). We age now in the comfort of knowing that, with every passing day, that redemption is closer than ever before.
We Will Be With the Lord
None of this means growing old is easy. We talked a lot about the return of Christ and the glory of heaven that day. Many as they age sit in a chair all day; many can barely move or speak. Yet they are so full of grace, and the power and glory of Christ rested on them. This is what flourishing looks like when physical health fails us and mental wellness declines. Aging and all that it brings will not alter the essence of who we are and what life is truly about. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Read the beginning of Revelation 21.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)
This is our great future. In Christ, aging is the path to glory. What is sown in weakness will be raised in power at the return of Christ. We will be with the Lord forever. In the meantime, aging is the accumulation of more stories of the faithfulness of God and a display of God’s determination to love and care for his own.
When a Loved One Goes Home to Jesus
Sooner or later we will all have to face the death of a loved one. Christians meet this reality more than most because we belong to a bigger family: the church. In the body of Christ, God blesses us with many brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers — all dear loved ones whose spiritual bond with us will never be severed (Mark 3:31–35).
We must all reckon with death. Someday we will all confront our own end, but along the way, we will also witness beloved friends and family pass from this life into the next. Death is a real enemy — a frightening enemy. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
I have watched people die in front of me. I have lost friends, young and old. Death always brings sorrow. And there is nothing wrong with grief in the face of death. Jesus himself wept over the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35). God has so designed us that death is unnatural to us. We were meant to live.
But when we lose a loved one who is a believer, we need to remember an important truth that will help us deal with the loss. Grief will inevitably strike us, but by God’s grace, sorrow does not have to overcome us. This truth gets to the heart of the Christian faith and offers us insight into the person of Christ, the God-man.
Jesus Desires You
In John 17:24, we read words that should be very near to our hearts when a loved one dies. Carefully consider the language:
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
As a man, Jesus has certain desires. He had desires on earth, and he still has desires in heaven. Here, Jesus has a desire that he makes known to the Father. He speaks, as he often has before that, of those whom the Father has given him (see John 6:37, 39; 10:29; 17:6, 9). Those whom the Father has given to Christ are the very sheep for whom the Good Shepherd laid down his life (John 10:11). Jesus prays to the Father for his beloved sheep in the High Priestly Prayer of John 17, and he continues to intercede for them to this very day (Romans 8:34).
And what does Jesus desire?
He desires that his people be with him. Jesus is completely happy and satisfied as he reigns from heaven, but according to his prayer in John 17, he still has a certain unfulfilled desire: that his people join him in the home he has already prepared for them (John 14:2–4).
We May Lose, But Jesus Gains
When a brother or sister in the Lord dies, we should remember first and foremost that the Father has answered Jesus’s prayer. God is sovereign over our loved ones’ deaths, and he has purposes we may never understand (Deuteronomy 32:39; James 4:15), but we can cling to the truth that Jesus has prayed for his Father to bring his people home. When a Christian dies, the Father is granting to his Son a request that he first prayed nearly two thousand years ago on the night before he gave up his life for his people.
We can at least say this much: When a loved one passes, Jesus gains a lot more than we have lost.
Yes, we have lost. We will never again share sweet fellowship with that brother or sister in this life. The magnitude of the loss often eludes our words. But the loss is never beyond Jesus’s words: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.”
Eternal Joy Beyond the Grave
Jesus knows he has a glory that is far beyond anything this world can offer. He knows that a true sight of him is worth more than millions of worlds. He knows that the sight of his glory will leave no one unsatisfied. Jesus is eager for his precious saints to enter true, eternal happiness with him.
We certainly taste many joys in this life, but nothing can compare to the pure delight of unhindered fellowship with Jesus. We are destined for unspeakable joy in his presence.
An Answer to Prayer
When you lose a loved one in the Lord to the Lord, you have indeed lost — at least for now. But that brother or sister has gained, and so has Jesus (Philippians 1:20–23). We may shed enough tears to fill buckets, but those streams of tears running down our cheeks will glisten with joy when we realize that our loved one’s death is nothing less than an answer to Jesus’s prayer.
The death of a dear loved one in the Lord may present one of the greatest tests of our faith. But can we trust that our loved one is better off with the Beloved? Will we believe that the Son of God is reaping the fruit of his work for sinners? If we do, then our grief is godly grief, and Jesus will turn our sorrow into great joy (John 16:20).
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15), and it can be for us too when we cling to the hope that death will never win (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). Jesus grieved himself so that we will never have to endure hopeless grief in the face of death.
In the end, death is just an answer to Jesus’s prayer.
Lord, Free Me from the Fear of Death
Jesus has a deep, intense desire to give you a gift so great you do not yet have the capacities to conceive of it (1 Corinthians 2:9). But you do catch glimpses of it in biblical metaphors and imagery, and in sublime moments when an experience of glory briefly transcends anything else here on earth.
Jesus longs so intensely for you to have this gift that he pleads with the Father to give it to you:
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)
This supreme request is the great culmination of Jesus’s prayer in John 17. That you may receive this gift is the reason why he manifested the Father’s name to you (John 17:6), gave you the Father’s words (John 17:8, 14), and guards you so you will not be lost (John 17:12). It is why he prays that you will be kept from the evil one (John 17:15), know the joy of helping others believe in him (John 17:20), and experience the sanctifying wonder of knowing and living the truth (John 17:17, 19).
More than any other good thing Jesus asks from the Father for you, he wants you to be with him forever. More than anything else, he wants you to see and savor the glory that the Father bestowed on him from eternity past (John 17:5, 24). For he knows that nothing else you ever experience will provide you such profound and lasting joy and pleasure (Psalm 16:11).
What Do You Fear Most?
But Jesus’s fervent prayers for you come with a sober implication, one that makes you recoil, even fear. In fact, one day you might find yourself pleading with God to give you the very opposite of what Jesus wants for you. The answer to Jesus’s prayer eventually requires your physical death. Unless Jesus returns first, you must die before you experience the forever fullness of joy in his glorious presence.
We must endure what we hate and fear most in life in order to enjoy what we love and long for most.
Yes, we hate death and resist it — and we are right to do so. God originally created us to live, not die. Death is a curse we bear, the tragic wages of rejecting God and his kingdom (Romans 6:23).
Nowhere does the Bible encourage us to view death itself as a good thing. Death is not a good thing; it’s a horrible, evil thing. Anyone who has watched loved one die can attest to its hideousness. Death is our mortal enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).
How Is Death Gain?
If that’s true, why does God count precious the death of his saints (Psalm 116:15)? And why do his saints even call death gain (Philippians 1:21)? Because in that most horrible, most evil moment of the death of the Son of God himself, death as we fear it — the extinguishing of our life and the seeming loss of our soul and joy — was killed! Jesus conquered our great enemy when he rose from the dead (Romans 4:25; Revelation 1:18), and will ultimately destroy death forever (1 Corinthians 15:26).
In fact, so powerful, so complete is Jesus’s defeat of death that he speaks of it as if Christians no longer even experience it:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26)
It isn’t death itself that is precious or gain to us. It is the Resurrection and the Life, who has removed death’s sting and swallowed it up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54–55), in whom we are receiving an eternal inheritance beyond our wildest dreams (Ephesians 1:11), and in whose glorious presence we will experience unsurpassed joy forevermore (Psalm 16:11). He is precious to us. He is our great gain in death.
Prepare Through Prayer
When our earthly assignment from Jesus is done (Acts 20:24), he will call us to be with him to enjoy most what we are made to most enjoy: him. This will make death gain for us on that day (Philippians 1:21).
Jesus is eager to give us this great gain, and he wants us to grow in our eagerness to receive it. How do we do that? Like he does. We ask the Father for it! We join Jesus in praying for the time we will finally see him in all his glory. We ask him to decrease the hold that the fear of death has on us due to unbelief in our hearts. And we ask him to give us such faith and longing to be with Christ that we no longer wish to live as long as possible here, but only long enough to faithfully finish our course (Acts 20:24). Because to finally be with our Savior will be so much better (Philippians 1:23).
Whatever It Takes, Lord
Someday Jesus’s prayer for us to be with him will overrule our prayer to be spared physical death. And when it does, we will know such joy and pleasures that we will wonder why we ever felt any reluctance to pass through the valley of its shadow (Psalm 23:4).
Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my faith and joy in the truth that death is gain for me, so that I can “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” Do not let the fear of death cause me to resist your will for me, and let me die in a way that declares that Christ is gain.
You Do Not Have Much Time
The path of wisdom respects time’s rhythms.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It’s worth pausing right there, at the entrance to this most famous of reflections on time.
Scripture says there is a time for all things, but our world counters that, instead, all things can be done all the time. Most technology, for instance, has harnessed us to the lie that we can throw off the creaturely restraints of time and have access to everything always, without waiting, without stopping, and without needing to rest.
Electricity blurs the boundaries between working while it is day and sleeping while it is night. Our online life has become our timeless master, as several screens ping commands without end which we obey without question. Gyms, fuel stations, libraries, offices, and supermarkets are open 24-7 and we come to believe we can do everything all the time. There is no particular season for anything. We do what we want, when we want.
Wise people respect time’s rhythms. Dawn, morning, afternoon, evening, night. God made six days to work, one day to rest. This structures a week, which repeats over a month, and the months in years.
Many people try to live rhythm-free lives by simply doing whatever they feel like doing in any given moment, without proper attention to whether it is the right time to do that thing; this actually tears at the fabric of what it means to be human. We are now discovering that our constant, season-less attention to digital media is diminishing our personhood.
In years of pastoral ministry, I have not seen many families unravel who unswervingly observe the Lord’s Day together with deliberate joy and routine hospitality.
The path of folly seeks to control time’s seasons.
Rhythms are not all there is in an ordinary life under the sun — there is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2), there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4), there is “a time to love, and a time to hate” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). These are seasons, not rhythms, for there is no predictability to their appearance in our timelines and often their presence takes us by surprise.
It takes the eye of faith to see that God “has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), because we often live with life’s ugliness and pain as much as its beauty and delight. Further, these are relational seasons: they involve people we love and lose, those we wrong and forgive, those we befriend and those who do us harm. We are profoundly relational beings and most of our lives are taken up with navigating the different seasons of our relationships and the effects they have on us.
Such seasons expose how little control we actually have over our lives. Zack Eswine says, “Many of our frustrations rise from our blindness to the change of season or to the pain or joy of them, and we struggle to adjust our expectations” (, 130). What do we do with those seasons which bring wrecking-ball damage to our tidy little realms? Where do we turn?
Ecclesiastes helps us to see that one of the seasons we do not control is the time for justice. “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work (Ecclesiastes 3:17). There will be a time, one day, for divine time travel: “God seeks what has been driven away” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). All the events of human history that have slipped through the hourglass of time into the past might be lost to us — . One day, he will dial back time and fetch the past into his present to bring it to account. Every time will have its day in court.
Foolish people seek all the answers to life in each and every season of life. But some seasons yield only questions, not answers. Some seasons bring a wound that will not heal; it might take a lifetime to learn that we “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The story of my life has broken characters, jarring interruptions, unexpected joys and relationships caught up in unresolved tensions and difficulties. In God’s kindness I have, as yet, unfinished chapters. But my story is not story. “ story reveals that there will be a time for judgment, and believers trust that judgment will finally prevail” ( , 180–181).
The path of life embraces time’s reversals.
This perspective is the gospel’s now-and-not-yet voice speaking in the unfamiliar accent of Ecclesiastes. Today is the time of suffering and anguish, of work and pleasure, of toil and terror; tomorrow is the time of glory and judgment, of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in world without end.
Now, this; tomorrow, that. The Lord Jesus fills our time with the unspeakable comfort of promised great reversals. Lose your life today for the sake of Jesus and his gospel; save it tomorrow. Gain the world now; forfeit your soul then. Be ashamed of Jesus in the time of this sinful generation; witness him being ashamed of you in the time of his coming in the glory of the Father and the holy angels (Mark 8:35-38).
Believers on the road to life know that the experiences of time can be reversed. The gospel turns the world on its head. Marred beyond human resemblance, the Servant of the Lord comes, in time, to shut the mouths of kings; buried with the wicked, he comes, in time, to divide the spoils of the strong (Isaiah 52–53). Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who are hungry, those who lose everything in the here and now, for the day of reversal is coming and the reward will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5).
Euphemisms for Dead, Death, and Dying:
Are They Helpful or Harmful?
Euphemisms are a way to convey something without saying a specific word that may be considered too blunt or direct. "Death," "dead," and "dying" are terms that are often couched in more indirect, evasive, or protective language, such as a euphemism.
Let's look at some popular words and phrases often used in place of "death" and "dying" and discuss the pros and cons of using such euphemisms.
Popular Euphemisms for Death, Dead, and Dying
Here are a few common phrases and groups of phrases that are used to refer to death or the dying process. Some of them may be considered to be a gentler way to express death, while others refer to a specific spiritual belief of what happens after death.
- Passed, passed on, or passed away
- Resting in peace, eternal rest, asleep
- Departed, gone, lost, slipped away
- Lost her battle, lost her life, succumbed
- Gave up the ghost
- Kicked the bucket
- Didn't make it
- Breathed her last
- Went to be with the Lord, Went to Heaven, Met his Maker
- Was called home, is in a better place
Different cultures, locations, and countries vary considerably as to which euphemisms are most commonly used.
Why We Use Euphemisms
Euphemisms for death and dying are often used to protect someone, whether it's the person speaking the words or those hearing them. We may be looking for a gentler way to deliver the news of death to someone or a way to provide comfort, despite the grief of the situation.
To Avoid Being Rude and Offensive
The goal here is to avoid increasing the hurt and pain of someone by being too direct since that could be interpreted and felt as being blunt, crass, or rude. We want to protect those around us by not "rubbing it in," so we might use a euphemism to refer to death.
To Avoid Discomfort
Death and dying are a natural part of life, but they make many people feel uncomfortable or anxious. Other kinds of language may be easier to use and less anxiety-provoking.
Our Own Grief Feelings
In order to use direct words about death, the speaker has to deal with his or her own feelings of grief and loss. Explaining to someone else that a loved one "didn't make it" is sometimes easier than saying that "she died." Death is final and saying it out loud can be difficult when we're struggling to cope with the situation.
Out of Partial Denial
Similarly, using the word "dead" makes it difficult to deny the reality. And, psychologically, while denial clearly needs to turn to acceptance, a little bit of denial is not all bad as a short-term coping mechanism. Indirect language can sometimes be a helpful way to mentally and emotionally handle your feelings gradually.
To Offer Spiritual Comfort
For those who believe in certain faiths, the emphasis in death is the afterlife. Thus, saying that someone "went to be with the Lord" may not be an avoidance tactic at all but rather a shared reminder of the comfort found in that belief.
The Effect of Euphemisms on Children
Using euphemisms when speaking to children about death is usually not recommended. While the intention is to be gentle and protect the child from additional pain, indirect language is often confusing to a child.
A euphemism involving terms such as "asleep" or "rest" might cause them to misunderstand and become fearful of going to bed at night. Similarly, saying, "We lost Uncle Fred last night" could prevent the child from comprehending that the person died and instead prompt them to go looking for Uncle Fred because he's "lost." A child's understanding of death is typically quite limited because they often lack the experience of the death of others and, depending on their age, have an inability to comprehend what they don't know. This can make death an abstract concept, and often the cognitive ability for abstract thought doesn't develop until shortly before, or even into, the teen years.
Hospice experts recommend using direct language with children to prepare for a loved one's death and in discussing death after it occurs. For example, even though it may be difficult for the adult trying to talk with a child, it is recommended to talk about the child's sick mother as "getting ready to die soon," rather than referencing the mother as "not doing very well" or "going home."
The Effect of Euphemisms on Those With Dementia
People with mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's, or another type of dementia might not understand indirect language very well. Previous research has shown that in dementia, the ability to understand a proverb requires the ability to think abstractly, which often becomes impaired as dementia progresses. Euphemisms are similar to proverbs in that they convey information with subtleties that someone living with dementia might not fully comprehend. This can prevent them from being able to truly understand that someone died.
Medical Euphemisms and Phrases for Dying, Dead, and Death
While some euphemisms are used by friends and relatives in an effort to be kind, gentle, and polite, there is a different set of euphemisms that are often used by physicians, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners. Common medical euphemisms include:
- Not doing very well
- Failing to respond
- Might want to consider comfort care
- Seriously ill
- Isn't going to make it
- Treatment is futile
Reasons Why Euphemisms May Be Used in Health Care
Despite working in a field where exposure to life and death issues may occur, many medical practitioners may still find it challenging to speak about dying and death directly. This can occur for several reasons.
Often, in an effort to deliver news in a gentle and tactful way, medical personnel may use euphemisms to convey bad news to a patient or his family members. This is driven by compassion and a desire to cushion or soften the blow. This can be appropriate and helpful for some families, but for others, it could prevent them from fully understanding the situation.
Additionally, some medical staff may be working to compose themselves in these situations, and indirect language may be easier to use to convey information in a professional manner. Despite being trained for years on healing the body, healthcare practitioners sometimes have little training on how to cope with the emotional impact of caring for patients who die.
At other times, euphemisms are used when there is a fear about how someone will react to the bad news. For example, indirect wording might be used if there's a concern that family will become angry or will blame the medical staff for the person's decline and eventual death.
How Euphemisms Impact Healthcare Decisions
Euphemisms may sometimes disguise the reality of the situation, and those dealing with an impending death need to be assisted in understanding what is happening. This potential lack of understanding could prevent the patient or a decision-maker from having a good grasp of the information and health condition, making it more difficult to make decisions about medical care.
Imagine this scenario with the following words:
- The doctor states, "I'm sorry to tell you this, but John isn't doing very well. We would like to make sure he's comfortable by giving him this medication. Is that okay with you?"
- The doctor states, "I'm sorry to tell you this, but John isn't doing very well. In fact, he's showing medical signs that he is likely to die in the next few days. We would like to make sure he's comfortable by giving him this medication. Is that okay with you?"
The different phrasing in these communications could give a very different picture of how John is doing and what his prognosis is. Some might understand both as meaning similar things, but others might read the first example as just a general statement that John is sick and that some medicine will help him.
Interestingly, a study was conducted about the language and processes used to inform families of their loved one's medical condition. The researchers found that despite the grief that resulted from hearing direct terminology used, family members preferred having more knowledge and a better understanding of how sick their loved one was. Even in cases where the patient did survive, family members reported long-term benefits of knowing that their loved one had been sick enough to die. They also were more likely to feel that the communication they received from their medical care team was effective and to feel satisfied with the care the patient received.
A study found that caregivers of people receiving palliative care (comfort care) wanted the medical staff to use the specific words death and dying, to speak directly about their medical condition, to avoid using euphemisms, and to talk about the impending death in front of the patient, as opposed to going in a different room away from the patient.
When Euphemisms Are Appropriate and Helpful
Indirect language to discuss death and dying might be appropriate if you're discussing a future possibility of death. For example, if you're speaking with your cognitively intact parents about why they should plan ahead and designate a power of attorney for healthcare, you might not need to be so direct with your language.
Also, as earlier noted, euphemisms can often be appropriate when used for protection and comfort.
When You Should Use Direct Language
The words death, dead, and dying should be used when it's important to be very clear about what is happening. This includes when critical medical decisions are being made based on the prognosis of the patient, when speaking with those who might not fully understand indirect language, and when there might be a language barrier that might hinder understanding.
Several words and phrases can be used as euphemisms for death, dead, and dying. It's important to understand the benefits and potentially harmful effects of using indirect language and to choose your words carefully, depending on your purpose and the audience with whom you're speaking.