The Beauty of Death and Dying

It was the third week of September and I was driving to work on a cloudy morning down a road lined with trees on both sides. With my mind scrambling to deal with a number of things that were going to fill a busy day, suddenly it hit me what I was actually looking at. The trees on my right and on my left were displaying a hint of color — some reddish, some gold. It was the first whisper that fall was on its way.

Every season has its fans. For some, spring is the absolute finest time of the year as we escape the clutches of the cold and enter into the blossoming beauty of flowers everywhere. For others, nothing is better than the hot, humid, hazy, wonderful days of summer. For still others, the cold, gray, windy, chill of winter is their favorite. I suppose for most of us, most of the seasons have their charm and by the time one season wanes and the other one gradually appears we are ready to let go of one and enjoy the wonder that the next season brings.

Fall is most intriguing to me because not only with just some cooler weather, the real beauty that is on display is because of death. I know that technically the trees and bushes are not dying; they’re going dormant. On the other hand, their foliage is dying. In that process of death they put on an incredible show of glitz and glamour. The beauty of the dying process is so spectacular that you and I can learn from what we’re seeing take place in God’s creation.

Living the Christian life is a glorious experience but we should not — must not — forget that the way we die also speaks volumes of our faith, our confidence in our great God, and the lessons that can be learned from not only living but dying in His grace. It doesn’t take long in the journey of life for you to build up a real fear of, and trauma about, death. You can be nine or ninety and look at death and only see the Grim Reaper, but as a Christian, as a child of God who recognizes that this is not the only world there is but a world to come, we, of all people, should be able to see and demonstrate the wonder of God at work in life and in death. Just some guidelines to think about as the seasons of life change:

One, we ought to live and die the same way. If you live with God’s grace demonstrated in your life and the goodness of God flowing through your life, you have a good chance of coming to the end of life with the same kind of great features demonstrated in who you are. I have a number of Bradford pears around my home. Most of them I planted myself and most every facet of their existence is a blessing. I love when the spring arrives and they bloom out in a full, incredible array of white as though it was a giant snow storm just out on the edge of my yard. They don’t last long but oh how dramatic it is to see them in bloom. As soon as the blooms are gone, the light green leaves appear and while they don’t last long, they become the beautiful dark leaves that will shade and show all summer. Then when fall arrives, depending on the rainfall and the other features of the atmosphere they can put on as beautiful a show as almost any foliage. As the growth cycle comes to an end and just before they’re nothing but gray limbs sticking up in the air, they live and die in a blaze of glory.

Biblically, I think you could make a case that God would say you give it your best from beginning to end and you can watch as it is demonstrated in our living and dying Savior, or you can see it in Stephen as he serves and dies caring, or you can hear it as the Apostle Paul describes himself as about to be a drink offering that is poured out and cannot be reclaimed but death is coming and he dies victoriously. He lived and died with a sameness about it.

A second thought I would share is that we need to show our best and most beautiful expressions at death. Now, you may not have that opportunity. We don’t choose when and where we’re going to die, but as life begins to fade just make sure that the end of day experiences include wonderful expressions to the people around you and what you would like to leave once you are gone. In my years of ministry, I have had the privilege, a distinct honor, of being near by people who have taken their last breath. Some of them were conscious up to the end of their lives and many of them said or expressed things that absolutely are profound and blessed my life every time I think about them.

Thirdly, and of such great importance, is that we need to live knowing that we will live when we no longer live. The Scripture says we are not like those who have “no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). We have all the hope in the world. We live in the strength of Christ and at the conclusion of our lives, like the Apostle Paul, we can say, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Gain what? Well, if to live is Christ when we die, we gain more Christ and death taking hold of us does not destroy us so much as it transforms us to the life beyond.

No wonder the Scripture says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15) because he has not only watched Him here on this earth but will have Him right there with him when he takes his last breath. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “…whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” (14:8). So follow Him. Live for Him. Die for Him with dignity and grace, abundant joy, and magnificent love.

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Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer