What Happens When We Die?

The issue of doctor assisted dying has been much in the news since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the federal law prohibiting physician assisted dying, which is also known as physician assisted suicide.  Currently, legislation is under discussion to allow people with grievous medical conditions, for which there is no hope of recovery and which causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual, to end their lives with the assistance of a physician.[1] The prolonged misery, pain and helplessness of people having to deal with such situations have led many to the conclusion that it is better to die than to live.

In the discussion, the assumption that it is better to die than to live, seems to be taken for granted. The Christian faith, as based on the Holy Bible, challenges this assumption.  Death will not be good for all. In fact, for many, death will bring about a situation far worse than whatever life in this world may present.  This truth must be considered in this discussion about doctor assisted dying. This cannot be communicated in just a tweet or a brief paragraph.  We hope you take the time to read this article. It will not be able to address every aspect, but it will open the way for reflection.

Death is the wages of sin

We must begin by considering how to look at death. The opening chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, teaches God created all things. Everything was good. There was no death. God warned the first humans, Adam and Eve, that if they disobeyed him, they would die. In Genesis 3, we read about this disobedience.  The result was that death entered the world. In the letter of Paul to the Romans, he writes that death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23).[2]

Heaven and hell

In the second place, we need to consider that death is a time for judgment. The apostle Paul writes that when we die, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). There are two possible destinations, namely, heaven or hell. Jesus portrays this in a parable where he describes what happened to a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. When Lazarus died, he was taken by the angels to Abraham’s side, while the rich man, who had ignored Lazarus, upon his death ended up tormented in Hades (Luke 16:19-31). Hades is portrayed as a place of anguish, outer darkness, and weeping and gnashing of teeth (see also Matthew 8:12). Therefore, the Bible makes it very clear that death is not the end of existence, nor automatically the beginning of a more pleasant existence.

Faith in Jesus Christ is the difference

This brings us to a third consideration, namely, what determines whether death ushers one into to the enjoyment of heaven or the agony of hell? The critical difference is faith in Jesus Christ. He is at the very heart of the Christian faith. We have a very succinct expression of the Christian message in the gospel written by John, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

 How one relates to the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son who came into our human nature, is the critical factor in the destination upon death. Jesus came to deal with sin and all its consequences. His cruel death by crucifixion served as payment for human sin. The unique character and power of his death is reinforced by the way Jesus arose from the dead. The accounts of Jesus’ ministry, as written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all testify to the way he arose from the dead. The apostle Paul puts it succinctly when he writes that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The work of Jesus, however, does not benefit every human being, but only those who believe in him, as was clear in the reference to John 3:16-18.

No fear

Those who believe in Jesus are not spared from the possibility of slow and excruciating death that can come because of disease, accidents, or the cruelty of other people shown in times of war. Still, for Christians, death is no longer to be feared. The apostle Paul, facing the prospect of a death sentence because he was a Christian, wrote, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet, which I shall choose, I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Phil. 1:21-24).  For Paul, death would be gain for it would mean he would no longer have to suffer hostility, including beatings and imprisonment. Further, he would be free from the struggle against sin. He saw death as leading him to a greater level of fellowship with the Lord Jesus. At the same time, he was content to keep on living so that he could continue to serve others. On another occasion, Paul reflected on all the hardships he had faced in life and wrote, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing  for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The confidence of believers in the face of death is also beautifully expressed in the words of Psalm 23, where David sang, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me” (v 4).

It merits emphasizing that while Christians have no fear of death, they do not seek to hasten it along. They will thankfully use various means available to alleviate pain, but they will not actively take their own life.  As the Lord gave them life in the first place, they wait for the time the Lord tells them their task on this earth is completed.

As an additional point, for Christians, the continued existence after death in the presence of Christ is not the sum total of what they believe. They also look forward to the day when Jesus will come from heaven and they will receive a resurrection body, in which to live forever in a new heaven and earth freed from all sickness, pain, sadness, grief, and death (see Revelation 21:1-7).


Honesty and full disclosure does require some elaboration as to what happens to those who do not believe in Jesus.  In such a case, death is not to be welcomed, but to be feared. The one who does not believe in Jesus is being fed a lie when they are told that death will bring welcome relief. We can refer again to the passages from Matthew 8:12, and the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. We can also add the fuller picture of a passage like Matthew 25:31-46, which describes the judgment that will take place when Jesus comes in glory. The final judgment will not lead to a lessening of suffering, but an intensifying, because it will then continue in a resurrected body. This is also described vividly in the book of Revelation (20:11-15, 21:8).

Love in warning

If this sounds like scare tactics, it is regrettable if it is taken that way. Instead, it should be seen as a warning, spoken in love. Parents who love their children will give powerful warnings to their children not to run into a busy road, or come too close to the edge of a cliff, lest they get run over or fall and hurt themselves, and perhaps get killed. No one calls that scare tactics, but speaking in love. This is also the nature of the gospel message. It warns, while at the same time it holds out hope. Only those who believe in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life and need not fear death. Those who believe in Jesus know that he will sustain them also in the final stages of life, which for some is extremely difficult. They find comfort in knowing that Jesus gives the strength to wait to be called out of this life. Christians don’t seek to resign from this life, but wait to be released from this life.

Dear reader, reflect on these words as you contemplate the assumptions surrounding the assisted suicide/assisted dying debate. The Bible teaches death brings no relief to those who refuse to believe in Jesus. Death will make it worse. Those who believe in Jesus know that when death comes, they need not fear. In that confidence, they can wait for God to determine the time of their death.

Should you desire to learn more about the Christian faith, we invite you to peruse our website, attend our worship services, or contact our pastor, Rev. Eric Kampen.

We pray that the Holy Spirit will use these words to reach your heart.

[1] https://www.ontario.ca/page/doctor-assisted-dying-and-end-life-decisions-consultation

[2] All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).