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When it’s not safe for you to die

Host Arnold Schwarzenegger poses after a panel for 'The New Celebrity Apprentice' in Universal City, California, December 9, 2016.
Host Arnold Schwarzenegger poses after a panel for "The New Celebrity Apprentice" in Universal City, California, December 9, 2016. | REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

“Tell me, governor, what happens to us when we die?,” asked Howard Stern of Schwarzenegger many years ago. Arnold replied, “Nothing. You’re 6 feet under. Anyone that tells you something else is a ****** liar.”

In a more recent exchange on the same subject, Schwarzenegger elaborated a bit saying, “When people talk about, ‘I will see them again in Heaven,’ it sounds so good, but the reality is that we won’t see each other again after we’re gone. That’s the sad part. I know people feel comfortable with death, but I don’t.”

While Arnold’s not alone in his fear of death, surprisingly, being afraid of dying isn’t our top concern these days. According to the 2022 Chapman University Survey of American Fears, we’re more afraid of corrupt government officials (the top fear, at 62%), identity theft (45%), climate change (39%), voter fraud (36%), after which come the Proud Boys and public speaking who tie each other at 34%.

Personally, I doubt the validity of the Chapman University study for the primary reason that fear of spiders was number 71 on the list. Every sane person knows that spiders are the most horrifying entity on the planet (shudder).

In any event, death only enters the fray at the seemingly pathetic number 61 spot, with just 29% of us being afraid of dying.

Now, in truth, death is implicit with a number of other fears. For example, the fear of sharks tops death on the list, but we’re afraid of sharks for reasons I’m sure you understand (you’ve seen Jaws, right?)

When a close friend betrayed him, David revealed his fear of dying when he wrote: “My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me” (Ps. 55:4). And Job wondered aloud if death would be the end of him when he said, “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14).

While Schwarzenegger thinks “We don’t know what happens with the soul and all this spiritual stuff” when a person dies, we actually do and have pretty strong evidence as to what comes after death and why. And it all revolves around the person of Jesus.

Bridging Kant’s divide

German philosopher Immanuel Kant believed in God and the afterlife saying that his faith rested on the “starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” Yet Kant didn’t think a person could really be certain that something else comes after this life.

Kant illustrated his point by asserting that there are essentially two worlds — the noumenal world of certainty and the phenomenal world of experience and faith. Those two worlds, Kant believed, could never be joined to each other and so we — like Arnold — can do nothing more than say, “We don’t know what happens with the soul and all this spiritual stuff.”

And if Jesus hadn’t been resurrected from the dead, he’d likely be right.

However, Christ connected the worlds of certainty and experience/faith together when His tomb was found empty on the third day after His crucifixion. The seen and unseen realms were joined in space-time history, which means we can have confidence in the here and now that there is life after death and truly know what happens to us when we close our eyes for the last time.

Moreover, Jesus’ triumph over the grave removes our fear of death. The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb 2:14-15).

John says something similar in his first epistle: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).       

But not everyone can face death with this confidence. Some figure this out when they come face-to-face with death and realize they aren’t ready for it.

Case in point: Dr. Maurice Rawlings was an atheist and a cardiologist who hadn’t given much thought to death. That is until he started seeing patients die in front of him.

His experiences led him to seek out those who had near-death experiences — more than 300 of them, in fact. Something that made Rawlings’ study in this area unique was that his discussions with people were not done months or years later but right after the incidents had taken place — while the patients were still too shaken up in the immediacy of the moment to brush over or backpedal from what they had seen.

For many, what they encountered was horrifying. Their stories helped change Rawlings into a biblical God-believer who summed up his study’s conclusion in a simple, yet profound way:

“There is a life after death, and if I don't know where I'm going, it is not safe to die.”

Question: What about you? Is it safe for you to die?

It is if you put your trust in Christ and in His sacrifice for you on the cross as well as His resurrection. But if you deny Him, He will deny you (2 Tim. 2:12) and then it is most certainly not safe for you to leave this life.   

How much better it is to understand and accept the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection and put the fear of death behind you. Once you do that, you can belt out the famous stanza from Charles Wesley’s great hymn “Christ the Lord is risen today” with all the confidence in the world, knowing that, even if you’re currently afraid of sharks or spiders (and who isn’t?), it will always be safe for you to die:  

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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