Is there anything worth dying for?
That might seem like a morbid question, but philosophically it’s an important question, the answer to which will be dependent upon one’s worldview. It is also a question, when applied practically to real life, reveals an individual’s true faith in said worldview.
The unbeliever, skeptic and materialist should reasonably be expected to answer that, for the individual, as an individual, there is nothing worth dying for, as life itself is the most precious thing an individual can possess. From the atheistic viewpoint, once life is gone, an individual is left with nothing – no memory, no honor, no wealth; nothing except a legacy soon forgotten. From the atheistic viewpoint, holding on to that brief moment of awareness and existence is all that there is; and thus there is nothing worth dying for.
On the other hand, a person who holds that there are spiritual values outside of one’s self, will have to think more deeply as to which of those values might be worth the sacrifice of temporal life. If we are willing to concede there may be things more important than self, then we must concede that dying for such things might be a reasonable trade-off. Especially, if, as the Christian does, an individual believes that after our physical death there is a continued existence in which there is the real potential of memory, honor and spiritual treasure; in such a situation, the question of dying for something other than self becomes much more reasonable.
Christian doctrine does teach that there are indeed things worth dying for, and that death is not to be feared. We read, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from now on, (Revelation 14:3a)” and, “to live is Christ, but to die is gain,… it is far better for me to depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:212, 23).” Faith in a life after death means that death is never the worst of possibilities. Rather, as Jesus reminds us, “what does it profit a man if he gains the world, but loses his soul (Matthew 16:26a)?”
Sin, the shame of sin, and the penalty of sin are all to be regarded as worse than death by the child of God. Scripturally, it would be better to die for the truth than live with a lie. Better to remain faithful to God in death than to live in rebellion (cf. Revelation 2:10).
Likewise, the love of Christ teaches us that to love others most fully means considering others as more valuable than self (cf. Philippians 2:3). Jesus expressed this love when He died on the cross for our sins. He encourages us to have the same selfless willingness to give fully to others. Such an attitude only makes sense if one accepts that there are things more important than one’s own life: that there are indeed things worth dying for.
If there are things worth dying for, then what does that tell us about how we should live before dying? That is, does it make sense that one would be willing to make such an extreme sacrifice as death, but cannot be bothered to donate an hour or two of time to the same. Is it not more likely that if we aren’t willing to make sacrifices short of death, it is unlikely we would actually make a sacrifice which involves our death?
A man might say that he values Truth more than life itself, but if that same man was willing to tell a lie in order to avoid a small amount of discomfort, we might be forgiven for suspecting where his real priorities lay. If husband tells his wife that he loves her so much that he is willing to die for her, would we be justified in doubting his sincerity if he also claimed that helping her with the dishes was a bridge too far. It seems reasonable to think that a love willing to make the ultimate sacrifice might also be willing to make small sacrifices from day to day. If a person is unwilling to make such sacrifices, are they not actually demonstrating that they love self more than they love others? Likewise, if we say that we would gladly die for Christ, but we then refuse to spend time in worship and prayer, or time in study, or time with the Lord’s church, or time doing any of those other things short of death that Christ asks us to do, do we really have the faith we are claiming to have, or is it just words?
The idea that there are things worth dying for is a philosophical acknowledgment that there is more to life than just living. There are values and things which are greater than our selves. But if we are going to acknowledge the existence of such things philosophically, then it is only right that we also acknowledge the value of such things by the way in which we live. If we are going to say that love, and honor, and truth, and compassion are all ideas and behaviors with a value that is greater than that of physical life, then we should live with love, and honor, and truth, and compassion. If we are going to claim that Christianity is a faith worth dying for, and give honor to those martyrs who did give their lives for the faith, then we should put truth to our words by living in the moment according to the precepts of that same faith. A thing worth dying for is most assuredly a thing worth living for.
If you like to learn about how you can live for Christ today, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.