Another thing I learned while researching The Last Enemy is that it’s not wrong to be afraid of dying. Jesus was. His death contained unfathomable terrors, and he sweat blood as he braced himself for what was to come. Our deaths are infinitely easier, but we may still learn from the cross that fear is not the opposite of faith. The same Jesus who cried “Why have you forsaken me?” also responded in faith, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Hebrews 2:15 says Jesus’ death frees “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Notice the text does not say we are freed from all fear of death. There are days and moods when I worry about dying. Augustine understood. He told his church, “Those who do not fear death should examine themselves closely lest perhaps they are in fact already dead.”
We are not guaranteed freedom from all fear of death, much like a school cafeteria is not guaranteed to be free of peanuts. An alert lunchroom monitor will catch most offenders, but there will always be a contraband Snickers or chunky peanut butter and jelly sandwich that clever students smuggle into school. Likewise, we will be less troubled by death when we understand how Jesus has defeated it, but that won’t stop a stray fear from popping up every now and again.
Jesus has not eliminated all fear of death, but he has freed us from the slavery of the fear of death. We may have moments when we feel afraid, but we are no longer paralyzed by our fears.
Rather than see fear as the opposite of faith, it’s better to think of our fears as an opportunity to demonstrate our faith. Fear is not required for faith (we may trust God even when we’re not afraid), but fear does enable us to see how great is our faith. As Peter and the disciples learned when Jesus approached their storm-tossed boat, anyone can walk on land, but only true believers lower themselves over the boat’s edge and slosh toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22–33).
Faith does not ignore our fear of death and pretend that everything is okay. But with shaky knees and sweaty palms, faith swallows hard and clings to God’s promise that we will live again. Death is “the king of terrors” (Job 18:14), and for that reason it provides the ultimate test of our faith.
So don’t be afraid to fear death. Your fears will help you sort out what you really believe.