Fear is a universal human experience. For many of us fears lie just beneath the surface. A recent YouGov poll of more than 2000 people found that 31% feared dementia most as they grow older, compared with 27% who were most scared of cancer. Interestingly, however, 18% said they feared death more than anything else. This fear was not about the process of dying, which makes many of us apprehensive, but death itself.
In the Western world we are living longer than ever before, but we still have to face death. The Bible calls death an enemy, the last enemy. Despite the attempts of some to present death as a simple transition from one room to another one in five people are more afraid of death than anything else.
I remember visiting a man who was in hospital recovering from a heart attack. He was in the coronary care unit and I could see the machine which was monitoring his heart rate. It was 48 hours after the heart attack and he was making good progress. He seemed relaxed and comfortable. During the conversation I asked him if the doctors had told him when he would be able to go back to work and was alarmed to see his heart rate suddenly more than double! It was not a helpful question to ask. The heart attack had created understandable anxiety about the future which was just beneath the surface.
Psalm 23 has been a source of spiritual strength to many people. In the Psalm David rejoices in the Lord who is his Shepherd and who cares for him in every situation of life, in death and in heaven. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
A well-known hymn speaks of death as being like the river Jordan which the Israelites had to cross in order to get to Canaan, the Promised Land. It wonderfully expresses the hope that Jesus Christ gives when we are trusting in him. “When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside, death of death and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side. Song of praises I will ever give to Thee.”