The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Is There a Stigma about Dying?, part 1

A question submitted to an interfaith panel on approaches to hospice care: “If we all agree that God controls both birth and death, why do we not accept his decision at that time? We seem to put a large/negative stigma on dying.”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

/The Rapidian

This week, I’ll share the Christian responses.

Father Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds:

“Orthodox Christians do not believe that God controls this life, but that in His love for us He gives us the freedom to make our choices, even if these choices infinitely impact those around us. That being said, we also believe in His Providence: that everything that He allows to happen can be used to bring us closer to His Kingdom. For this reason we should fully accept the realities of our life--birth, death and everything in between--and find in them the Providence of God and not realities to be avoided. We believe that death is no longer the ultimate end of life, as it was before Jesus conquered death in His death and resurrection. For those who follow the way of salvation, their earthly death is is not the tragic end of life, but is instead their birth into the fullness of His Kingdom.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Fear of death and dying is natural to human beings. We were created to live and not die. God’s Word everywhere urges us to choose life, not death, as Moses does in Deuteronomy 30:19: ‘I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that thou and thy seed may live.’ Death entered the world by sin (Romans 5:12). Death is ‘the last enemy’ ​that Christ will destroy when He comes again (I Corinthians 15:26). But without faith in Christ and His promises, our instinct for life is perverted into an enslaving fear of death, by which Satan holds us captive to his will (Hebrews 2:15). 

“When Christ delivered us from all the tyranny of the devil, He transformed death from a punishment into an act of liberation. “Why must we also die? Answer: Our death is not a satisfaction for our sins, but only an abolishing of sin, and a passage into eternal life” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 42). For the Christian, ‘death is gain’ (Philippians 1:21). Knowing that our times are in God’s hand (Psalm 31:15), we go on living by faith, walking in love, and we die in the hope of glory. ‘Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s’ (Romans 14:8).”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“If one defines ‘control’ as ‘to exercise restraining or directing influence over as to regulate” and ‘to have power over as in to rule,’ then I have a grave problem with the premise of this question because I do not agree that God controls both birth and death.

‘God entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 460). Natural death comes as the fulfillment of good stewardship of the earth. Human beings do not have a predetermined time for either birth or death. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches the soul is infused in the body shortly after conception and the Church teaches that when the body dies the soul leaves and lives forever. The soul is the part of the human being that is created in the image and likeness of God. I believe the stigma around dying is a human creation and has nothing to do with God but has everything to do with death seen as failure. On the other hand, I often refer to death as birth into eternal life.”

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“As a pastor I talk to a lot of people who are near death and it’s amazing to me the difference that knowing God makes about the way they see death. Yes, God controls birth and death, and those who know God accept it and trust God. Acts 17:26-27 tells us: ‘From one man he made every nation of humanity to live all over the earth, fixing the seasons of the year and the national boundaries within which they live, so that they might look for God, somehow reach for him, and find him.’ Those who have done this have peace and even joy as they face death. Those who have rejected God have a hard time accepting death and put a negative stigma on dying. In Jesus God has opened the way for us to be saved from the fear of death and final condemnation. It is now up to us to accept this gift.”

The Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Unitarian responses, will appear next week.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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