The air is warm and dry. You feel the sand between your toes as you nervously await what is to come. The walls shake with the roar of the crowd as you look at your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus beside you. The large metal gate in front of you creaks as its raised. ‘Move!’ A voice from behind you shouts. As you step into the arena a large voice yells out to the crowd.
‘Citizens of Rome! As we pause our games for a moment, we bring forth the criminals to be executed for you today. Behold! In the middle of the colosseum are your fellow Romans, traitors who have turned away from the very gods who protect our empire! Those who would see Rome burned to the ground! They have chosen to worship the God of the jews. Let’s see if their God will save them now!
The crowd begins to yell once more. You are now one of the most despised people in the empire. A breaker of the law. An insult to the gods. A trap door in the base of the arena flies open. Through the cloud of sand you see a herd of lions running into the arena. Their roar is so loud you can no longer hear the crowd. They are starved, and trained to do only one thing; kill.
You look down to see a young girl, no more than eight years of age, standing beside you. The only wrong she has committed is being born in the wrong era. Her body is shaking as she begins to cry. You reach out and take her hand into yours. ‘Let us pray.’ With a slight nod she turns to you. You gather everyone together and kneel.
‘As Christ was hanging on the cross, flesh ripped from his body, punished by the very Romans who condemn us to the beasts on this day, he prayed that they would be forgiven. Let us pray, as he told us to…
Our father in heaven, holy is your name. As your kingdom comes, your will be done, on Earth and in Heaven. Give us today, our daily bread. Forgive us of our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.’
As the lions drawer nearer and nearer to you, so does the end of this life. With a final breath, you ready yourself for the life to come.
Such was the danger of being a Christian in the early church. The surviving accounts of saints in the first few centuries are very inspiring. Their faith was unwavering. When laws were enacted making Christianity illegal many went so far as to proselytize publicly so as to be martyred. Some would argue that to die in the name of Christ is the highest honour. And, to think, all those condemned by the Romans were only a few generations away from seeing the very emperor of the western part of the empire, Constantine I, become a Christian.
A brief timeline:
c.0 A.D.-Jesus, the Christ, is born
c.33 A.D.-Jesus is executed by the Romans
c.64 A.D.-Peter the Apostle is executed by the Romans
c.65 A.D.-Paul the Apostle is executed by the Romans
c.312 A.D.-Emperor Constantine the Great converts to Christianity
c.313 A.D.-‘Edict of Milan’ makes Christianity legal throughout the Roman empire.
c.380 A.D.-‘Edict of Thessalonica’ makes Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire.
Now, all of this brings us to our prompt for the day. The question has been posed, “If Christians really believe in God and the afterlife, why are they afraid to die?” Some people would argue, often snarkily, that Christians shouldn’t fear death if they really thought they would go to heaven and that they should almost welcome it. So, therefore, if a Christian doesn’t want to die, then their faith isn’t as real as they claim it is. Let’s evaluate.
While one would hope that anyone facing death would have the serenity of the early Christians in the colosseum, this isn’t always the case. Does that mean their faith isn’t genuine? Obviously I would say no. Asking instagative questions like this are usually just attempts by people looking for “got-cha” arguments that they think pokes holes in someone’s beliefs. So, why would a Christian fear death?
Well, I suppose, you can could start with mild narcissism on the part of the believer. I’ve had my life as long as I’ve been alive, and sometimes it’s hard to let go of things you’ve been attached to for a long time. And, people tend to want to do things when they want. And, you may not feel like you accomplished everything in this life that you would have liked to.
Selfishness comes to mind. If you have a child in a hospital dying of cancer, you can think they’re going to heaven, and you can also not want to be without them. Just because you believe everything happens in accordance with God’s will, doesn’t mean you forego you own desires. It is totally understandable that someone would say ‘I want my child to go to heaven so they won’t suffer anymore, and I want them to be healed so that they can go home with me.’ Situations like this aren’t always the easiest to navigate.
Next, I would say fear. Not fear of what’s going to happen to you, but fear of what will happen to those you leave behind. Let’s say you are of old age. You’re lying in a hospital bed surrounded by your family. You know that death is knocking at your door, it’s only a matter of time. Would you not worry about your family? Will they be okay, emotionally? Financially? There’s a lot of worries to be had when you realize you aren’t going to be there for the people you love anymore.
Ready for this one; Doubt. Yep, good old fashioned doubt. Sometimes faith is hard. It’s complicated. People struggle with it. There are plenty of people who say ‘I believe in God and the hereafter, I hope I’m right.’ People of faith aren’t absent basic human thought processes and emotions.
From doubt, we can branch off into uncertainty. Instead of ‘I hope I’m right’ we could say ‘I hope I’m forgiven.’ You may have lived a good life. You may think you said all the right things, and did all the right things to get you ready, but in the back of your mind there can still be room to question. One could argue this is a good worry to have. Saying ‘I know I’ve lived and good life, and I KNOW where I’m going’ can come off as being prideful. Do you know? Really? A little humility goes a long way. Just putting on my friend hat.
So what am I driving at? Well, it’s okay to be unsure and to have questions. Just because someone says if you don’t want to die then you don’t have faith doesn’t mean you should automatically default to well I don’t want to die, therefore I must not have faith after all. Logic and reason are your friends. They aren’t ‘bad words.’ They aren’t exclusive to the “enlightened people” who don’t need to believe in “the invisible man in the sky.” Many believers would argue that logic, and especially reason, are absent in many of the agno-atheistic arguments of the day. Bare in mind, people have tried to shake the faith of the saints since the beginning of anno domini. As time progresses, people seem to make attacking Christians into a sport. As the saying goes, history repeats itself. And, with our ever-worsening socio-political climate, it seems as if people are being pitted against one another more and more everyday. I would ask you with all humbleness, don’t fall into the trap. There is enough discourse in the world, that monster doesn’t need to be fed anymore. When you’re entering the arena, don’t take up arms to try and vanquish your enemies. Instead, try to remember the words Paul said in his letter to the Romans. (See what I did there?)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12 14-21
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