In 2008, country singer Kenny Chesney sang, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, have a mansion high above the clouds. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now.”
We all fear death, don’t we? As believers, we say we’re not scared of dying, but our actions often speak louder than our words. And it’s entirely natural: ingrained deep in our psyche is a powerful survival instinct. Some people, for example, put off writing their wills because it’s morbid, others refuse new adventures — like flying or going on cruises — because they could, no matter how unlikely, carry fatal consequences. Then there are those who fear sharing their faith, scared their vulnerability could lead to violent persecution. To others, it’s the often painful process of dying that’s scariest.
That’s not how believers are supposed to think, though. We are called to be countercultural in every way, and that includes how we view death.
Just two weeks after falling and fracturing his pelvis, former President Jimmy Carter was behind the pulpit at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, where he said he is “at ease with death,” a state of mind he reached after his August 2015 diagnosis with melanoma, which had spread to his brain.
“I found I was absolutely and completely at ease with death.”
Former Pres. Carter discusses his battle with cancer at church in Plains, Georgia, on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/M8mYnF8z87
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 4, 2019
“I didn’t ask God to let me live, but I just asked God to give me a proper attitude toward death,” Carter recalled. “And I found that I was absolutely and completely at ease with death. It didn’t really matter to me whether I died or lived.”
“I have, since that time, been absolutely confident that my Christian faith includes complete confidence in life after death,” he continued. “So, I’m going to live again after I die. Don’t know what form I’ll take, or anything.”
At 95 years old, Carter is confident of the Bible’s promises to believers.
In Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul wrote: “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
Paul’s words make clear why Carter and every Christian should be “absolutely and completely at ease with death.”
Death itself is not a good thing — it is an evil consequence of a fallen world. But those who are in Christ have nothing to fear in death because earthly death is the sign of eternal gain.
The apostle wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
And in Psalm 23:4, David declared of the Lord, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Those who have not found salvation in Jesus have everything to fear; true death is eternal damnation, everlasting separation from God. But those who are saved should step into the unknown of the afterlife with a certain confidence and “ease,” convinced nothing can separate us from God.
Like Chesney said, we might not always feel ready to go to heaven now, but we certainly shouldn’t fear the journey there.