The word euthanasia comes from the Greek language and literally means “good or happy death” (eu = “good” or “happy,” thanatos = “death”). In the context of hospice, the concept of a good death involves the easing of a dying person’s suffering. But in the broader scope of life, what constitutes a good death? Christians talk a lot about what it means to live well but seldom do they discuss what it means to die well.
Walter R. Martin (1928-1989), my apologetics mentor and the original host of The Bible Answer Man radio program, used to say that the real death rate is “one per person!” He also commented that when the angel of death came for him that he would insist upon “two out of three falls.” I took from Martin’s humorous comments that death was inevitable and yet it was to be resisted in all ways possible.
Since childhood I have found death both intriguing and puzzling. As a youth, I was always more fascinated by funerals than by weddings. Just how and why a person could be alive one day and then dead the next struck me as one of life’s greatest enigmas. Of course, I came to understand that biological systems break down, but still death remained mysterious.
My father and I had a number of candid discussions about the subject. As a frontline combat soldier in the bloodiest war in human history, he had seen more than his share of death (it is estimated that 50 to 60 million people died in the Second World War). While he found it difficult to talk about his feelings, he conveyed to me that life is short and death inevitable. He also shared with me his deep conviction concerning immortality borne of his historic Christian belief of anticipating an afterlife in the presence of his risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Two of my close childhood friends both died tragically in automobile accidents when they were young adults (Paul Goff and Scott Claud). Though it has been many years since their deaths I still think of my friends from time to time and remember the pain of their losses to both of their families and to me. It is especially difficult to see your friends die when you and they are only of high school or college age. They were literally here one day and gone the next.
Before I share some of my personal thoughts about what it means to die well, we must first briefly examine what the Bible reveals about the true cause of death.
The Biblical Perspective on the Cause of Death
The Christian vision of reality (or world-and-life view) contends that death is more than merely a physical or biological phenomenon. Death is a direct consequence of humanity’s (via the first man, Adam) disobeying God’s expressed command.
And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
According to the Bible, physical and spiritual death for humanity is the result of human sin. All human beings have inherited original sin from their progenitor, Adam. The Apostle Paul explains:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)
The doctrine of original sin means that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God all subsequent generations of people inherited sinfulness, guilt, moral corruption, and both physical and spiritual death. Adam was humankind’s “representative man.” He embodied all of humanity in the covenant between him and God. God chose as part of this covenant to treat Adam’s action (either in obedience or disobedience) as representative of all humanity’s actions.
In the next installment of this series I will share my personal thoughts on the meaning of a “good” death.
For further discussion of the historic Christian doctrine of original sin, see my books Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions and A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test. For some excellent theological analysis of the Christian view of individual eschatology, see John Jefferson Davis, Handbook of Basic Bible Texts.