The Death Bed
As we consider home life, we must recognize that circumstances vary—whether from home to home, life to life, or culture to culture. But one of these variations supplied by our technocratic culture has created something of an optical illusion. We have a tendency to want to get death away from our homes and families, and off to a “dying place.” But we need to realize that one of God’s gifts is the death bed.
10I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: 11I said in my haste, All men are liars. 12What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? 13I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. 14I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people. 15Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. 16O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds. 17I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD. 18I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people, 19In the courts of the LORD’S house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD (Psalm 116:10-19)..
We speak the way we believe (v. 10), and we speak on our death beds the way we have believed. This is another way of saying that we die as we have lived. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward, and it is too easy to be cynical. It is hasty to say that all men are false (v. 11). At the end of one’s life, the mind should turn naturally to thanksgiving—what can we give the Lord for all His benefits (v. 12)? A good way to end one’s life is by taking the cup of salvation, calling upon God, and paying vows in the congregation (vv. 13-14). God’s perspective of death is different from ours (v. 15). Complete submission to His will in this is appropriate (v. 16), and presenting thanks to God is fitting (v. 17). Praise in the congregation is a wonderful conclusion to life (vv. 18-19) because the departing saint is being gathered into a much greater congregation.
GATHERED TO HIS PEOPLE
The Bible gives us a wonderful image of this death of saints, a death which is precious in the sight of God. Because it is precious in the sight of God, and because we say amen to all His decrees, such deaths are precious in our sight as well. We do this by faith, and not by sight. Consider:
“Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8).
“And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him” (Gen. 35:29)
“And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people” (Gen. 49:33).
We tend to think of death as the time we are separated from our people, but the Scriptures say that it is the time we are gathered to our people. Death is a gathering time, not a sundering time.
A MOMENTARY GRIEF
It is certainly appropriate and right for Christians to grieve at the loss of someone dear to us. We grieve, but our grief is to be as free of unbelief as the rest of our lives. Grief is part of what must be sanctified in us. This is the direct teaching of Paul. “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). We may sorrow, but it must be sorrow in perspective. We grieve over the momentary separation, but it is the sort of sorrow you might observe at an airport when a family is bidding farewell to someone for a period of some years. They know they will be together again, but the temporary separation (as far as this life is concerned) is still real (Acts 20:38). But we must always keep the balances held upright (2 Cor. 4:17). Death has really been conquered (Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 15:55-56).
We should therefore think in a distinctively biblical way as we approach death and dying.
Everything else being equal, it is better to die at home than not. It is good to be with your people as you are gathered to your people. Sometimes nursing homes or hospitals are a medical necessity, and so this is a blessing to pray for, and not a rule to observe.
Families that sacrifice to make this happen are not robbing their children or anyone else, they are giving to everyone involved.
We want to die the way we have sought to live—honestly. This means that lying to someone about their condition is out. If the person is ready to meet God, the truth is precious. If they are not, the truth is most necessary.
Pain medications are lawful, and a great mercy. But we must remember that the point of all such medications should be to keep the patient as clear-headed as possible. We should desire that our dying might be a strenuous reaching for the finish line (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
The Bible does not prohibit cremation (and so neither should we). And sometimes this might be a financial necessity. But at the same time, the Scriptures do indicate in various places that burial is a wonderful testimony to our faith in the resurrection of the dead (Heb. 11:22).
The house of mourning is a good place to learn wisdom. It is good to be reminded of our own mortality. We do not want to be morbid, but each of us needs to know that we will die (Ecc. 7:4). This is an inevitable event, and it is one which requires thoughtful preparation.
Look at your hands, which will one day be bones. What does this bring to mind? God is good and God is sovereign. To dust we all shall return, and glory to God. We surrender gladly to the principle He has established—my life for yours.