On Dying Well

It is all too easy to skip over a discussion on the inevitable.  Life is short.  No one escapes death.  The Bible reminds us through images that our days on earth are brief.  Psalm 144:4 uses two different metaphors to highlight the brevity of our lives,

Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow. 

Similarly James 4:14 says,

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

A breath.  A shadow.  A mist.  It’s no wonder that Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 7:2,

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.

The Contemporary English Version renders the verse this way,

It’s better to go to a funeral than to attend a feast; funerals remind us that we must all die.

Morbid?  Yes.  But death is simply a reality we cannot escape.  To think about dying well is admittedly not on our radars every moment of the day.  However, there are occasions (and they increase as we grow older) when we are confronted with our own mortality whether it is through the death of a loved one or when he hear of someone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Richard Sibbes had these insightful words on dying well,

Therefore if we desire to end our days in joy and comfort let us lay the foundation of a comfortable death now betimes. To die well is not a thing of that light moment as some imagine: it is no easy matter. But to die well is a matter of every day. Let us daily do some good that may help us at the time of our death. Every day by repentance pull out the sting of some sin that so when death comes we may have nothing to do but to die. To die well is the action of the whole life. He never dies well for the most part that dies not daily, as Paul saith of himself, ‘I die daily,’ 1 Cor xv 81; he laboured to loose his heart from the world and worldly things. If we loose our hearts from the world and die daily, how easy it will be to die at last! He that thinks of the vanity of the world, and of death and of being with Christ for ever, and is dying daily, it will be easy for him to end his days with comfort (Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, 1:349-50). 

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