The Surprising Human Attitude toward Death

I ministered as a hospice chaplain for four years. Becoming a hospice patient requires a terminal diagnosis. Therefore, as I anticipated this ministry, I assumed my patients would have concerns regarding their impending death, what awaited them beyond, and whether they had made adequate preparations.

I was amazed to discover that the almost universal consuming focus of this population consisted of Bonanza reruns for men and soap operas for women. The imminent approach of end-of-life never seemed to compute with them. When I met with patients I normally asked if I could turn off the television, but one day when I had failed to do so I noticed that during my prayer the patient remained fixated on her program. The next day I got word that she had died.

Some may conclude that these patients were living in denial, but my experience led me to conclude that though they knew factually that they were short-timers, they genuinely maintained the attitude that they would live forever. Life’s most certain event objectively comprised for them life’s most ignored event subjectively.

Psalm 49:11 describes this phenomenon: “Their inner thought is that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations.” Though people factually realize they are going to die someday, subjectively they are convinced that that day will never come. If hospice patients maintain this attitude, how much more people in good health?

Though a relationship with the Lord provides significant benefits for this life, that reality is not always apparent. Some Psalms lament how well life is going for the wicked. Grasping the ultimate benefits of salvation requires an eternal perspective. Surprising as it may seem, foundational to presenting the gospel is convincing people of life’s most obvious truth—someday they will die.

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