About 2300 years ago in ancient Greece there lived a man named Epicurus. He spent his time thinking about things and taught others about the things he was thinking. One of the things Epicurus thought about was death. That’s not unusual. There has never been a living human being who has not thought about death at one time or another. But Epicurus was a professional thinker (also known as a philosopher), so his thoughts were influential. What do we hear from Epicurus on death and fear? In his thinking, he concluded that death was the end of body and soul. When we die, we just cease to exist and therefore, he said, death should not be feared.
Epicurus died in 270 B.C. at the age of 72 in great pain because of kidney stones. However, he wrote a letter in which he said it was, “a happy day to me, which is also the last day of my life.” Since Epicurean philosophy says that death is nothing to be feared, why do people still fear death? Perhaps it’s because most people think that Epicurus was wrong.
What is the source of the greatest joy and fulfillment in life? Isn’t it love? The relationships we have with others bring us happiness and give us purpose as well as joy. Loving and being loved by family and friends is the greatest of human experiences. God never intended for us to be alone. (See Genesis 2:18.) Being rejected by those we love is the source of the greatest pain. Interestingly, Epicurus believed that a happy life is one in which friends surround us. We know that nothing makes us as sad as the loss of those we love. Death is the most permanent form of separation and loss. Death steals away those we love one-by-one if we manage to live long enough. Death gives us much to fear, and then finally death comes to take us.
If Epicurus is right, then death is the end of love. If there is no existence beyond the grave, there is no love. If you believe that death is the end of existence, seeing a loved one dying is the most fearful and terrible experience in life. But what if death is not the end? What if love goes on? Genesis tells us that death was not part of God’s original plan for humans. Death is a consequence of human sin. Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus out of sympathy for Mary and Martha. He must also have been weeping over what sin had done to the human race. Grief and anger over the mess brought on by human disobedience touched the emotions of the human Jesus.
But Jesus was more than human. He is also God. He had the power to bring Lazarus back from the grave and restore him to the sisters who loved him. But that resurrection was only temporary. Lazarus, as well as his sisters, died at some later time. Soon after raising Lazarus, Jesus conquered the power of death once and for all. His death brought both fear and grief to those who loved him. But as Timothy Keller wrote in Making Sense of God, “…the darkness of death swallowed Jesus, he entered it, but then he blew a hole out of the back of it.” The pain of those who wept was turned to joy as Jesus was alive again. When Jesus conquered death, he brought not only joy but also hope. Death is not the end of love and relationships. Love goes on.
So what can we conclude about Epicurus on death and fear? Epicurus was right when he said that death should not be feared, but he had the wrong reason. For those who accept the gift offered by Jesus Christ, death is the entryway to eternal life and a love relationship with the One who IS love (1 John 4:8).
–Roland Earnst © 2017