A Letter To A Man Thinking About Dying
I’ve had the thought “it would be better for everybody if I weren’t here”. I still do, sometimes. I’ve thought “this world is a dumpster fire, what can I even do? I should just give up”. I’m not alone in this, and nor are you. The ancient Hebrew texts that Christians call the Old Testament tell us of a prophet called Elijah:
‘Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.’ - 1 Kings 19:3-5
My inner monologue occasionally seems to viciously hate me. I can’t fix this, and I certainly can’t fix you, but I have an answer to it that totally satisfies my need for purpose, my sense of my own failure, and my need to know who I am. An answer that cannot be overcome, no matter how much my mind and emotions snarl and snap.
Because my answer is that, in a way, that voice is right, but not in the way it thinks it is. I do need to die; but not in the immediate physical sense.
You see, I am a Christian (follower of Jesus of Nazareth), albeit a frail and faltering one. Perhaps you’ve heard about Christianity and dismissed it. Perhaps Christians have not related well to you, but please, just hear me out, it might surprise you. The Bible (the collection of writings that Christians follow as scriptures from God) tells me:
‘The death He (Jesus) died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. So you too must count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires’ - Romans 6:10-12a
That “count yourselves dead” here is not taking my own physical life - oh no, it’s in some sense harder than that! It’s dying to ego-driven self-definition, dying to self-ownership, and dying to the evil that I have done and am capable of, and in doing so, being raised to a new life full of wonderful purpose!
Dying to self definition
Our contemporary culture is often referred to as “radical individualism” where people try to “find themselves” only by reference to looking within, rather than a relational definition. Each person therefore becomes like a black hole, looking ever inwards.
The Christian position is different - we are who we are through relationship, not through self-oriented self-pursuit. God is in nature relational - a theologian friend says that God the Father’s Fatherhood is a property conferred upon Him by His relationship with the Son. That’s a bit of a mouthful and I’m probably not doing it justice, but the most immediate application is that I become who I should be by being in relationship to God.
Instead of “me looking inside me to find me” (which is like trying to fix a broken screwdriver with the same broken screwdriver), Christians relate to God as our Father and our Creator (that’s just for starters!). This means that we have a solid reference point external to the notion of the self - we can orientate ourselves by eternal, transcendent, unchanging truth.
This means that I need to die to any attempt at self-definition that is based on me and me alone. That kind of self definition cannot logically tell me who I am - I cannot be all of the observed, the observer AND the reference point!
Dying to self ownership
Our culture says “my body my choice”. Our culture says “my rights”. It cries out “if it’s not hurting anyone, I can do what I want” - each man is accountable to himself only.
However, when I am rightly relating to God - with His wisdom guiding my life, with Him as God on the throne - I realise that I don’t own myself. He created me, and he owns me twice over - because Christians believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God (God in the flesh in the Trinitarian sense) died an agonising death - FOR US!
‘19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.’ - 1 Corinthians 16:19-20
That’s huge on (at least!) two fronts.
Firstly, it means I have value, I am NOT and can NEVER BE worthless. I am deeply, deeply flawed, yet I am dearly, dearly loved.
Secondly, I have responsibility to God. Men need responsibility; a burden to shoulder; a mission to fulfil. What greater responsibility than being a servant of the God of the Universe, the Creator of all things? What higher purpose could there be than to “know God and to enjoy Him for all eternity”? God is so unfathomably huge that you will never get tired of Him, you’ll never have explored all of His riches!
Once you get a glimpse of the REAL Jesus, it may well go something like this:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” - Matthew 13:44
Your heart leaps for Him, not in a romantic way, not in a Hollywood way, but in a “YES, I want to follow this God-man, wherever He leads me, I am His to command, let’s do this!”. Life now has a purpose!
Dying to sin
Our culture doesn’t believe in sin because it doesn’t believe in God (I know I’m generalising but I’m talking broad strokes). Most people only think in terms of harm to others, and “harm” is notoriously difficult to define in some cases without reference to absolute, transcendent truth.
In the Christian worldview, “Sin” is anything that goes against God’s personality. Think of it this way - you’ve made a wonderful sculpture, you’ve put hours into it, and you’ve made it look just like you. Then, someone comes along and drags a chisel across its face. You’d take that personally, right? This is about a billionth of what sin is like - God never did anything wrong, but we rebel against Him.
It’s even worse than that, because we are created in His image:
‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ - Genesis 1:27
This means if somebody lies about you, they lie about somebody made in God’s image. That’s a cosmically serious offence. If YOU lie, then you’re lying despite the image of God - you’re going against His character.
Dying to sin sounds awful and yes it’s painful, but it’s about the power of the new affection that Christians have for Jesus. Sooner or later, what was in the dark gets dragged into the light, and it withers before our King and we have to choose - our horrible little sins or the infinite joy, adventure and love of God. This is a hard process, but there’s immense joy in it - because we believe that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. can take away our sins
After death there is resurrection
And that’s the crux of it - the Christian dies to an old life (that’s what the ritual of baptism represents) and is raised to new life with Jesus Christ:
‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’
Through THIS kind of death there is life! Through THIS dying to self, dying to sin, dying to ego, there is true, eternal, lasting life!
And no matter WHAT you have done, Jesus Christ stands ready to receive you if you’ll only go to Him!
‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”’ John 6:37-40
So, my friend, you bear sadness, pain, frustration, guilt, anger, shame, and you hunger for purpose. Jesus says “come, join me in my death, and join me in my life!” His way is hard, it’s narrow, but He is a gentle taskmaster, a wise King, and the best captain you could ever hope to follow. He offers you new life, true life, “life in all its fullness”.
I’m here for you, I’ll walk with you through whatever’s going on, but the most loving thing I can do is direct you to the One who can really help you.