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Evangelicals Talk a Good Line When it Comes to Death, but Change Their Tune When They Are Dying

mark twain death

Evangelicals love to talk about heaven and the afterlife. They love to talk about the imminent return of Jesus and the rapture of all Christians from earth. They love to brag about being ready to go; about being ready to check out; about wanting to see Jesus face to face. Listen to enough Evangelical sermons and you’ll conclude that believers, much like the Apostle Paul, want to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. But let sickness, disease, or accident usher them to the front door of the great unknown, getting ready to leave, pulling out tomorrow, saying goodbye to all earthly sorrows, and Christians aren’t so much in a hurry to check out after all. It seems when theory becomes reality, Evangelicals are just like the rest of us — they don’t want to die. For all their talk about heaven and living eternally with Jesus, Evangelicals really aren’t certain about what lies beyond their last breath. Since no one — including Jesus — has ever come back from the dead to tell us what, if anything, lies beyond death, all Evangelicals have to go on is the Bible. And based on my six-decade involvement with Evangelicalism, I can safely say that Christians fear death just like atheists, agnostics, and everyone else they have consigned to the eternal flames of hell.

If Jesus, God, and Heaven are all Evangelicals says they are, shouldn’t they want to leave this rotten, vile, sinful world as soon as possible? If this life is to be endured as some sort of test from God, shouldn’t Evangelicals want to graduate as soon as possible so they can move into their mansions in the sky? Why do Evangelicals do all they can to hang on to life as long as possible? Is it perhaps possible that they know that, despite all their talk of the sweet by and by, deep down they crave life and want to hang onto it at all costs? I suspect this is the case.

I am convinced that there is nothing beyond death; that we only have one life and it will, all too soon, be in the past. It seems like yesterday that I was a youthful ministerial student at Midwestern Baptist College. In but a blink of an eye, forty-plus years have passed. I am now sixty years old and have been married almost forty years. My oldest son is almost forty and my oldest granddaughter is a junior in high school. My once-carrot-red hair is white and my joints are filled with arthritis. I’m plagued with memory problems, and ever so quickly I have become my grandparents. I have owned dozens of cars and lived in dozens of houses. I’ve seen eleven presidents elected and lived long enough to see modern technology transform the world. While I hope to live many more years, I know that most of my life is now in the rear-view mirror; ten years left if I live to age seventy, twenty if I live to eighty. Where have all the years gone? people of my age ask.

I hope when it comes time to die that I will face my convictions head on, that I will reject efforts to keep me alive. We currently have an extended family member who is on life support. He was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher for over fifty years. His body has shut down, yet his wife refuses to pull the plug. The snarky side of me says, why wait? Pull the plug. That way he will see Jesus and be ushered into his home in the sky. But the compassionate side of me gets it — his wife is not ready to let go; his children are not ready to let go. No one wants to face the prospect of sleeping alone or looking in the closet and seeing clothes that will never be worn again. None of us wants to face the emptiness and silence that comes when our significant others die. Who among us wants to lose their lover, friend, and confidant? I know I don’t.

Despite our protestations and acts of denial, when death comes knocking on the door, we can do nothing to keep ourselves alive. The curse of modern technology is that we can often put off the inevitable. But both the Christian and unbeliever must be brutally honest about life and death. Deny death’s reality all we want, it matters not. When it comes our time to die, we die.

Dylan Thomas was right when he said:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

While we can, let us rage against the dying light. But let us also be honest enough to embrace death. Death plays its part in what The Lion King called the circle of life. Being aware of our mortality is very much a part of what makes us human. Deny it all we want, death will still come knocking. Over the weekend, a fifty-nine-year-old local man died from a snowmobile accident. While he was snowmobiling on ice, a tree limb hit him in the head and killed him. I went to this man’s Facebook page to see what his last updates were about. He spoke of family, of grandchildren. I wonder if ,when he wrote about his grandchildren, he knew that would be the last status update that he would ever post; that but a few hours later he would be dead. I doubt it. Life is like that.

Are you ready to face death? What are your opinions about being kept on life support?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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  1. Avatar
    Tim Matter

    About life support: It’s OK as long as there is a reasonable chance of you regaining consciousness, but if at some point it is obvious that you aren’t going to wake up, the mind that was “You” is not there any more.
    My grandmother almost died one day and they saved her life, but she needed to stay in the hospital with a breathing tube in. She spent the next 3 1/2 years slowly becoming less aware until she was totally unconscious for the last 6 months, and they weren’t allowed to pull the plug on her, and it cost an extra 1/2 million dollars to keep her alive after there was no hope.
    You need to let you wishes about life saving measures known ahead of time. You could have an accident, or a stroke and it will already be too late, so when my wife and I made out our wills, we also had them draw up whatever legal paperwork is needed so that somebody will be allowed to pull the plug on us if we end up in a similar situation.

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    My dad got six months extra when he was dying through the treatment he was given. He had absolutely no quality of life during this time and nor did my mother and his other carers. When my turn comes I will not be taking this route; I hate to say it but extending life artificially to no good effect is ‘playing God’. While I’d take any medication to relieve the pain, I’d like nature be allowed to take its course.

    Until then, I’ll try to do what Bernie Taupin suggests in another Elton John song, ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’: ‘Don’t wish it away, don’t look at it like it’s forever.’

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    I like the Mark Twain quote. But I hate death and hate discussing it. I will say that I used to be so jealous of people who live to be very old. But I’ve recently seen what very old age can be like, and it looks pretty miserable. I can see the plus of dying before you’re in constant pain of some kind, no longer in your right mind, and not nearly as good-looking as you once were. I think it’s kinda mean of God to allow these things that people must endure. But then, I tend to think that God doesn’t feel sorry for anybody seemingly.

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    Here are my thoughts about why evangelicals are fearful of death. Even though they talk about how” heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace, I want to see my Savior’s face”…..they are also taught that in the afterlife we will sit at the judgment seat of Christ where we will be JUDGED for every thought and action that occurred throughout our lives and will be meted out either a positive or negative outcome (some believed that there would be levels in heaven – some of us would just get in by the skin of our teeth and be a servant while others like pastors and missionaries would live in opulent mansions and be served by those whose good works were not as stellar). One pastor likened it to seeing a movie on a giant screen showing all one’s thoughts and actions for everyone to see. (As a kid, I wondered about the logistics of that – having a lifetime movie showing for each person, but I guess eternity is a long time and a day is as a thousand years or whatever…). Also, evangelicals are taught that we are only saved by faith through grace, and that not of ourselves. While the evangelical strain I was in taught that you could have assurance of salvation, that did not mean that deep down we were all for real for sure – which accounts for a lot of the rededications that could be seen at the altar each week. There was always that “just in case” the first time it didn’t take, let’s go down again at the altar call and repent of our sins. To be wrong was to suffer eternity in hell. Before I knew it was called Pascal’s wager, I heard my grandfather talking about it, how he would rather be an evangelical and find out there is no heaven than to reject it and it was true and suffer eternity in hell. This was how our strain of evangelicals lived our lives – we believed that we could receive salvation through Christ, but with all the preaching about eternal damnation and needing to be SURE that one was saved, everyone I knew had doubts (though few discussed that because that was considered sinful, the devil trying to lead one astray through doubt). When you are damned from the moment you take your first breath due to original sin, you need to be damned sure you’re saved before you take your last breath. And the teaching is that once you’re dead, that’s it. There are no do-overs. There is no mercy, no forgiveness.

    So yeah, no wonder evangelicals are scared out of their minds about facing the judgment seat of Christ. Who wouldn’t be?

    As for life support: one of the greatest decisions my mother made was to have taken her final wishes (DNR) communicated clearly and legally to her medical team. We did not have to discuss it or make decisions when the time came. Also, she prepaid for her funeral and took care of even the most minute details of her final arrangements. All my brother and I had to do was call the funeral home, sign the papers, and bring her outfit. My husband and I also have created documents regarding our wishes as well so our children or whoever is left do not have to make decisions for us. Neither of us wants to languish on life support, nor do we want our children to go through the anguish of making those tough decisions.

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    I work in a hospital, on an elder-care inpatient unit. It is tragic how many people keep their loved ones alive in monstrous condition, simply because the advanced medical care available makes it possible for them to take another breath. Even setting aside the families that are milking their grandma’s Social Security check, or living in her house, or whatever. And they’ll say keep her “full-code”, God will decide. Really? ‘Cause God wasn’t saying something when you found her unconscious and her kidneys have shut down and she doesn’t care because she’s been confused and demented for years now? That’s not God talking to you? Let’s take that BiPAP mask off and see what God thinks about her breathing in 5 minutes. Most tragic part – it’s a Catholic hospital, and one that waves the Catholic in your face incessantly.
    People ask why I continue to work for a faith-based company – because I believe strongly that healthcare should be provided to all in our country and this is the only non-profit in town. It bruises my soul every time I walk in the building.

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    My mom suffered for nine long, agonizing months because my dad couldn’t let her go. I can’t even describe how horrific that time was. But it was during that time I decided to make sure no one had to make those choices for me. Hubby and I both have living wills/DNRs. We don’t want to be on any level of life support, if there’s no reasonable chance of our returning to the land of the living. For me, I don’t want to be brought back if I can’t feed myself, mobilize myself or/and take care of my own elimination needs.

    I also do not want a funeral or burial service. I’ve let my family know to have my remains cremated; what they do with the ashes is their choice, even if it means just tossing them in the trash. My one request: I would like them to do something they know I would have enjoyed doing with them (listen to good music, watch favorite movies, explore a new place or try a new food) as a memorial. But I don’t want them to spend money on useless things such a casket, flowers and stinky funeral homes. Also, if anyone outside my immediate family feels like remembering me, I would prefer they give to one of my favorite charities rather than spending money on flowers I will never see.

    I know it’s controversial, but I also believe a person has the right to choose their own time of death. Terminally ill people, including children, have the right to choose when to die with professional assistance, in my humble opinion. And in some other cases as well, as long as the person is of sound mind and decision-making capability. Who am I to decide what is quality of life for someone else?

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Bruce Gerencser