Fear of Death

Anxiety disorders include fear, anxiety and panic attacks. Anxiety is like fear without an adequate cause. People are anxious because they don’t know. Fear, on the other hand, has an object and we categorize fears by their object. Claustrophobia is a fear of enclosed places. Agoraphobia literally means a fear of the market place. Arachnophobia is a fear of spiders, etc. For a fear object to be legitimate it must have two attributes. It must be imminent and potent, i.e. it must be present and believed to have some threat to our physical or psychological safety.

For instance, I don’t like rattlesnakes. However, as I sit at my desk writing this blog I have no fear of them. Why not? Because there are none present in my room. If someone threw one of them through the door and it landed at my feet, I would go instantly from peace to panic, because it is both present and potent. What if the rattlesnake that landed at my feet was dead, provided that I was sure it was dead? It is now present, but no longer potent. I may still feel a little uncomfortable, and check every now and then to make sure it isn’t hibernating, but I wouldn’t be afraid. Additionally, I wouldn’t be afraid if I didn’t see the snake at my feet whether it was alive or dead. Any fear reaction is dependent upon our perception. A movie audience will feel great apprehension as they watch a criminal or animal stalk an innocent person, but the unaware victim isn’t sensing anything even though a fear object is present and intending some harm.

To overcome any fear, you have to eliminate just one of the attributes of the fear object. For instance, physical death is still imminent, but it is no longer potent. The apostle Paul wrote, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54,55). He would later write, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Christians don’t have to fear physical death, because they are eternally alive in Christ. That is not a license to commit suicide, because we are called to be good stewards of the life that we have been entrusted. The person who is free from the fear of physical death is free to live a responsible life today.

Dr. Neil

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