The Hour of Death
Editorial by W.C. H.
It is a teaching of the Writings that if man knew the hour of his death he would prepare himself, not from a love of what is true and good, but from a fear of hell; and whatever a man does from fear does not remain with him, but what he does from love remains. The point is, of course, that states of fear and of imminent death are states of compulsion which deprive man of freedom and take away the use of reason, both of which are necessary for the appropriation of heavenly life; and the conclusion drawn is that since the hour of his death is unknown to him, man should be preparing himself all the time.
Because it is the Divine will that man shall be in freedom and rationality this law is never violated. Even King Hezekiah did not know the hour of his death; for although he was told through the prophet that the Lord would add fifteen years unto his days, and probably thought he was about to die then, he did not know it. Swedenborg's case might possibly be cited as an exception, but it may be argued with some assurance that he had prepared himself long before his final days on earth.
If it is human at times to wonder how long we are going to live, it would be foolish to wish that we knew. What could be worse than to see the number of our days diminishing with increasing speed? In a sterner age the doleful reminder that in the midst of life we are in death was used as a spur to fear; at any moment the sinner might be consigned to the flames of hell which burned eternally but never consumed. We should not be afraid to face the fact of death, as so many of our contemporaries apparently are. It is wholesome to recognize that some day death must come; and that recognition, where it is neither obsessive nor tainted with morbidity, can stimulate freedom and reason. Yet we can be grateful that we do not know when death will come, for in withholding that knowledge the Lord preserves our freedom to prepare ourselves.
-New Church Life 1964;84:469