Praying for Death
If you've ever experienced the death of a loved one, you know the pain that accompanies such an ordeal. It isn't the pain of a physical injury or an emotional insult. It isn't the pain of guilt or hunger or fear. It is all these pains wrapped into one. It's an empty feeling that moves from your heart to your stomach, numbing your mind, leaving you searching for distraction and escape. But there is no escape. This kind of pain may dull over time, but it never fully goes away. There might be moments when it's forgotten, but there are other times when a smell or a scene from a movie bring it back as though the wound were newly inflicted.
And yet, sometimes we pray for this kind of pain to begin. When we see a loved one suffering through the final stages of cancer, we pray for death. We might call it release or freedom from pain, but it is still death. When a parent is lost in dementia, not remembering their spouse, children, or name, what do we pray? Of course we pray for healing, for a miracle, but is there a small part of us that prays that God would end their suffering and take them home? Is this a monstrous thought? Is this lack of faith?
Perhaps you've never been in this situation, but you will be. Scripture and history are clear. The end of everyone is death. We will all feel this loss. Solomon knew this well as he wrote many times in Ecclesiastes that the end for every man, wise and fool, rich and poor, was the grave. This sentiment is echoed throughout scripture, from the pronouncement of the curse in Genesis 3 and testified by the end of every character on its pages, all end in death... with one exception.
Jesus Christ is that exception. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that Christ has destroyed the power of death and has delivered us from slavery to the fear of death. Paul writes of the hope of life after death in 1 Corinthians 15, even saying that death has been swallowed up in the victory of Christ.
So, is praying for death a monstrous request? Does asking for such a thing show a lack of faith? I would answer these questions with another. Didn't Paul write "to live is Christ, and to die is gain"? I doubt any of us would accuse Paul of being suicidal or having a lack of faith for desiring to be with Christ. He understood that death meant being with the Lord. He understood that his ultimate end was not the feebleness of a tormented body, ravaged by physical ailments and sinful temptations. His end, along with the end of all who are in Christ, was a new body, an eternal reward, and everlasting life.
I believe we can pray for death. It is not showing a lack of faith. In many ways it shows just the opposite. Praying for a loved one to be taken home and freed from the diseases that wrack their physical bodies shows we have faith that a better life is yet to come. It shows that we fully believe in the promises of scripture. It testifies of our belief in a sovereign God who can and will take His children home in his time.
A few cautions though. Ultimately, the decision of death is the Lord's. In most cases, it is not up to us to send a loved one through the doors of death. The paradox of this prayer is that we may still be striving with all our might to preserve a loved ones life. We'll provide medicine, care, support, and prayer for healing and peace while in the same breath praying for God to bring them home to Him. That is the sweet mystery that makes death for the Christian so different than death for an unbeliever. It is the mystery that enabled Paul to say in that same passage quoted above, "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is necessary for you." (Philippians 1:23-24) Of course we want our loved ones to remain with us as long as possible. But the length of that time is in the Lord's hands.
If the one we are praying for is not a child of God's, then we need to pray with all our might that He would preserve their life long enough to respond to the Gospel call. Death is only swallowed up in victory through Christ. For the unbeliever, death is not a release from pain to eternal bliss. It is a journey from pain to agony. Therefore, we must continue to pray for God to sustain their temporal life in order to grant them the gift of eternal life.
Ultimately, the prayer for the death of a loved one is the prayer for God's will to be done. We don't know what the Lord will do until His will is revealed. Of course we can pray for freedom from illness and pain through healing. But, I believe we can also pray for freedom through death. We can ask God to show mercy by bringing one of His children home where we will see them again, someday.