In his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author Eric Metaxas relates the martyred German theologian’s perspective on death. Just over a decade before he faced the gallows as an enemy of Hitler’s Third Reich, Bonhoeffer spoke of death in a sermon. His view on how the Christian should regard one’s own death as something transformative and good challenges as much as it encourages:
“No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence. . . .
“That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up–that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? . . . Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.
“How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?
“Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.” (Bonhoeffer, p. 531)