Is it sinful to desire death as an escape from the pain of this world and as an escape from the pain caused by our own sinfulness? Marissa, a listener to the podcast, is brave enough to ask it.
“Dear Pastor John, is it a sin to long to go home? I’m 31 years old, and my life is ruined. I dread the rest of my life. Because of sin, I have lost everyone I love most (and I mean everyone). I feel like my very poor choices can’t be redeemed while here on earth, even though I have repented and confessed my sins. I am terrified of what awaits me, including having to remain single until I die because of an ensuing divorce (that I don’t want but did cause), and never having the blessing of forming a family. Is it a sin to want to go home and be with Jesus? Your teachings are among the few things that keep me going.” Pastor John, what would you say to Marissa?
Longing for Christ
Marissa, let me give what I think is a clear biblical answer in general to your question, and then circle around to your situation in particular with some, I pray, hopeful words. The biblical answer in general is that it is not a sin to long for heaven, and for the presence of Christ, with a sense of aching dismay over the sin and sorrows of this world and of our own lives. In fact, I would say that the more one knows of the real condition of this world, and the more one grieves over the remaining corruption of our own hearts, the more natural it is to long for heaven and Christ.
“There are troubles in the world, and there’s pain in the world, but the most grievous thing is sin in our own soul.”
Remember these lines from “Come Thou Fount”:
Oh, that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face.
Full arrayed in blood-washed linen,
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace.
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Bring thy promises to pass.
For I know Thy power will keep me
Till I’m home with thee at last.
When Robert Robinson wrote that verse of “Come Thou Fount” 150 years ago, he was not mentally unstable. He was full of the Holy Spirit, full of grace, full of wisdom, and full of longing — a longing that every saint tastes. That’s what we long for; we long for the day when we’ll be free from sinning. The thing we want most to be free of in this life is dishonoring the Lord by our own sin. I mean, there are troubles in the world, and there’s pain in the world, but the most grievous thing is sin in our own soul in the world.
A Far Better Home
Paul says this idea more than once. “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:23–25).
Here he is again: “We are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:6–9).
There it is so clear. There’s the biblical answer, Marissa. In general, to long to be at home with the Lord is not a sin. It is biblical, and it is healthy.
Faith, Not Sight
Now, the reason I say that’s the general answer is that I can imagine a situation when it would be a sin to want to die and go to be with Jesus. Did you notice that in both Philippians 1 and 2 Corinthians 5 Paul knew going home to be with Jesus was not yet God’s will for him? He took this from the hand of God with confidence that God would give him the strength and the grace for the life that was not his first choice.
“In general, to long to be at home with the Lord is not a sin. It is biblical, and it is healthy.”
Concerning the life he was going to live as he remained on the earth, he said, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, though my first choice would be to go and be with the Lord” (see Philippians 1:23–25). The key is found in 2 Corinthians 5, where he says, “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
That brings me to your situation, Marissa. I want to encourage you that the ruin and dread that you see in front of you for the rest of your life is not, in fact, reality. At least, it need not be. Here are your key phrases; they’re very bleak: “My life is ruined.” “I dread the rest of my life.” “I feel like my very poor choices can’t be redeemed while on the earth.” “I am terrified of what awaits me.” But what would Jesus say when you say this? Is this faith talking or sight talking?
We live by faith and not by sight. Is this faith talking, or is this sight talking? Jesus is calling you, Marissa, to walk by faith and not by sight. I agree from what you can see with the eyes of your head that the future looks hopeless, dreadful, terrifying, unredeemable. That’s true. It does. But that’s just not the way you have to live.
Promises to Walk By
We walk by faith, not by sight. Remember — this is so amazing — Paul said this about himself. He said this in the same breath as saying, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). He wasn’t blind. He knew that his future on earth would be full of sorrow, full of pain. Listen to this verse from Acts 20:23: “The Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”
“Long for heaven, long for Christ, long for the day when we will sin no more. But trust his promises now.”
It wasn’t a possibility for Paul; it was guaranteed. Pain is on the way, Paul. Until you have your head chopped off, it’s on the way. He’s not going to be ripped out of a life of comfort when he’s martyred. He’s going to be ripped out of a life of misery when he’s martyred.
He had no prospect of retirement with ease. He would be killed for Christ in the midst of afflictions, not in the midst of comfort. That’s what he saw with the eyes of the flesh, but with the eyes of faith, he saw miracles happening in him and through him. He said, “Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
Here’s a promise for you, Marissa. I believe God has given me this for you:
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:10–11)
I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 56:5)
Yes, Marissa, long for heaven, long for Christ, long for the day when we will sin no more. But trust his promises now, like Paul as he faced a painful future and walked by faith, not by sight. God’s promise for you is fruit in the midst of this sorrow.