December 3, 1996
The American Medical Association reports a study concerning terminally ill patients. According to this study, a majority of people from certain ethnic groups would rather their doctor did not tell them they were dying. They felt this information should go to the family instead. In contrast, people from other ethnic groups were more likely to want to hear it for themselves.
Death is never an easy matter to discuss, much less stare in the face; however, terminally ill people may have good reasons for wanting to be told. Perhaps they want time to get their personal affairs in order or say goodbye to loved ones. Some may dislike playing games with reality. If death looms on the horizon, why hide the fact or pretend it never will happen? Those who would rather not be told may believe their family can make better decisions for them.
The report did not mention belief systems of these various groups, just that African-Americans and European-Americans had the least amount of trouble being told of imminent death. These two groups have lived longer with the American philosophy that stresses personal individuality so may feel they can handle the news “by myself.”
On the other hand, these two groups also have had a longer relationship with Christian beliefs. Their desire to know could be influenced by those beliefs. Death, while still a mystery in some ways, is not a huge threat to Christians who personally know the One who conquered it.
People of all religions speculate what will happen the moment someone dies. Some say nothing — the body goes into the ground and that is the end of everything. This is Nihilism and offers no hope.
Others say death is the entrance into another life, one in which the person who died is reincarnated into another life form. Many eastern religions and some segments of New Age teach reincarnation.
The Bible gives quite another version. It reports that Christ rose from the dead and declares that death is not the end but a transition. It also affirms that “it is appointed unto man once to die...” not several times. Reincarnation, according to the Bible, is a false hope.
Scripture offers hope in the Incarnation — the event of God entering our world, pulling on humanity and offering Himself to us as Savior from sin, and Lord of our lives. He proved death is not the end by bringing others to life and by rising from the dead Himself.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes this: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...”
He then describes what happens to us when we die: “The body that is sown (dead) is perishable, it is raised imperishable... it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power... Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep(die), but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed... then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
The Scripture also reasons this way: “If Christ has not been raised, then the dead are not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins... those who have died are lost.... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised....”
Terminal illness is not unique in that we will all die. But eternal life is unique. It is found only in Christ—the good news is that He is willing and able to give it to anyone who seeks it in Him.