Last week, I pondered the appropriate response of someone of faith to death and dying. I received some wonderful advice (especially from Debbie —, but I felt I needed to keep searching. And it hit me. Of course we know how a person of faith should face mortality: We have the ultimate role model — Jesus.

Jesus certainly had to deal with death and dying, and from Him we can draw some important lessons that just might serve us well. To wit:

  1. It’s okay to be sad. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus reacted in the most human of ways: He wept. Despite the fact that He, more than anyone on Earth, knew what awaited His friend in the afterlife, He wept. And then He did something else — He raised His friend from the dead. Think about it. It is a response so human, so shortsighted (what if Lazarus was happy on the other side?), so nearly selfish, it tells us everything we need to know about mourning: It’s okay. It’s natural. There is no shame in it, no matter how we express it.
  2. It’s also okay to be scared. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, reflected on His own upcoming torture and death, and He was scared. Terrified, in fact. He knew that in three days He would rise, never to experience pain again, but facing the end of His life, He was rightly afraid. Rightly, because it was going to hurt. It was going to be humiliating and wrenching and terrible. Guess what? You’re allowed to not want to experience those things. You’re allowed to be afraid of dying. Jesus was. And we can hardly be expected to be better, or more enlightened, than He.
  3. A better place is waiting, even if we’re not perfect. I have always derived great comfort from Jesus’ conversation with the thief on the cross next to His. The nameless thief doesn’t renounce his former life or confess all of his sins (which may have been many); he just comments to Christ that while he (the thief) deserves what he’s getting, Jesus does not. And Jesus tells the thief the most reassuring thing in the world: “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 43) How’s that for forgiveness, for generosity, for compassion? There can be no greater thread of hope to cling to than those nine words. Sinner that I am, will God not show me the same regard? Will He not show us all the same regard?
  4. All we have to do is the hardest thing: Believe. When Jesus tells the parable of poor Lazarus (not to be confused with his friend, brother of Martha and Mary) and the rich man, He gives away a most telling clue. The rich man, having neglected to take care of poor Lazarus and having wasted his life on wine, women and song, is relegated to Hell. He attempts one last bid: “I beg of you, send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him testify to them so they will not also come into this place of torments.” (Luke 16: 27-28) But his bid is refused. Nobody gets warning. On the flip side, no one gets (debatable near-death experiences aside) absolute proof from the other side that the other side exists. We have to believe blindly, hope in darkness. That’s the conundrum. That’s what makes it so hard to be human. It is truly the work of a lifetime. But at least we have a role model.