Teaching People to Die Well

Justin Wainscott and Matt Crawford have recently posted helpful items on the importance of theology for helping us to live and die well. Justin reflected on the first two question s of the Heidelberg Catechism in light of preparation for a funeral and Matt quoted the trial of several early Christian martyrs in North Africa.

Both of these brought back to mind a comment from J. I. Packer in the recently released volume of essays on his life and work, J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought. In Packer’s response essay he wrote:

“‘Our people die well,’ said John Wesley somewhere, commending Methodist Christianity. Dying well, as the final climactic step in living well, was a prominent theme in older Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox teaching on the Christian life and in some places may still be so. But in the West death has become the great unmentionable, like sex in Victorian times, and little is taught to Christians in these days about preparing for it. Instead, we live as if we shall be here forever, and very many churchpeople, one fears, have matched the self-protective young man in Charles Williams’s Many Dimensions who ‘passed . . . a not unsuccessful life in his profession, and the only intruder he found himself unable to cope with was death.’ This being so, and knowing as we do that life in this world is a terminal condition, it is surely most important that our catechesis should promote readiness for dying. When the late Dag Hammarskjold wrote that only one who knows how to die can know how to live, he was absolutely right, and our churches are much at fault in having forgotten it.” (177)

These are reminders of important truths. As pastors, our teaching and preaching is not merely abstract. We must keep in mind that we are preparing people to live well and ultimately to die well. We will all die. Let us prepare to do so well.

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