The Art of Dying


In the later Middle Ages and through the first centuries after the Reformation, both Protestant and Roman Catholic writers produces literature on the ars moriendi, the art of dying. Recognizing that death is an event of great weight and everlasting consequence, these writers taught that dying well does not come naturally but is a practice that must be learned. Furthermore, they saw dying as a practice that must be learned throughout the whole of life if it is to be executed well . . .

Many people today express the sentiment that the best death is a sudden death that involves no extended period of pain or suffering. While such a perspective is eminently understandable, we should appreciate why so many people in other times and places regarded a sudden and unexpected death as a great misfortune. A sudden and unexpected death leaves no time to put one’s house in order, no time to say goodbye to loved ones, no time to reconcile with those who are estranged, and, most importantly, no time to be sure that one is right with God . . .

Yet sudden death often occurs, whether from natural or unnatural causes. The fact that we go through life not knowing the day of death, not knowing whether it will come tomorrow, though we feel well today, ought to give us pause. The only way to be prepared for this momentous event of death is to be ready at all times. If we make the effort to prepare in youth, in early adulthood, in middle age, or wherever we find ourselves in life’s pilgrimage, we will not be left unprepared even if death comes tomorrow completely unexpectedly. The responsible Christian life involves having one’s house in order now, cultivating relationships with loved ones now, reconciling with those who are estranged now, and taking account of one’s standing before God now. If they are committed to these practices, Christians will be prepared for death – whether it is sudden or gradual – in a way that they would not otherwise be.

– David VanDrunen, Bioethics and Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions (Crossway, 2009), 175-176.

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