I once knew a woman in a nursing home who, though strong in her Christian beliefs, dreaded death because she questioned what kind of reception a person as flawed as herself could expect. As her friend, I wanted to reassure her that she need not be afraid. My assurance came from what I’ve learned as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormons.)
The Bible indicates that death is joyful for the righteous and fearful for the wicked. Revelation 14:13 tells us that death becomes a time of rest for those who “die in the Lord,” and that they shall be blessed. On the other hand, the sting of death is sin, wrote Paul, “[b]ut thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:55-57) Sin not only makes death painful, but it can hasten it. “When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity,” recorded Ezekiel, “he shall even die therby.” (Ezekiel 33:18)
Christ erases the “sting” of death in two ways. First, He made it possible that we might all be resurrected. An ancient American king known as King Benjamin taught his people that if “Christ had not risen from the dead…there could have been no resurrection. But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.” (Mosiah 16:7-8) This is primarily the sting of separation from those we love. It is comforting to know we may see our loved ones again.
Secondly, Christ made it possible for us to repent of our sins. Ancient American prophets have taught the awfulness of failing to repent while in this life. The prophet Nephi taught:
Wherefore, if ye have sought to do wickedly in the days of your probation, then ye are found unclean before the judgment-seat of God; and no unclean thing can dwell with God; wherefore, ye must be cast off forever.(1 Nephi 10: 21)
In a similar vein, his brother Jacob warned:
But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state! (2 Nephi 9: 27)
Those who knowingly sin against God’s commandments in life can expect death will be an unpleasant experience. They will not be able to hide their sins from God, nor escape the negative consequences of their choices. In contrast, in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, God explained that “those that die in [Him] shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them” (D&C42:46).
The Lord loves us and desires we find happiness even in death, but He cannot reward evil behavior. Only those who willingly rebel against His law will find death to be a tragedy, because it will bring them closer to the time when they will have to account for their wickedness in life. God has, however, provided an opportunity for those who die without knowing his commandments to learn and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ before receiving final judgment. In the end, we will receive whichever kind of end we have chosen based on the lives we’ve lived and our desires to serve God.