Death’s Place in Life

Back at the college I recently finished at, a student was found shot to death in her car a two weeks ago. There were regular Facebook statuses about it from most of the people who post regularly on the site. It has been an appropriate outpouring of grief, concern, and sorrow as further details and possibilities have been brought to light in the matter. I will not comment upon these–it is not my place.

In one of those peculiar moments that sometimes happens, just as one of those possibilities came to light, a friend of mine who is currently at that college was posting regarding a date he took his fiance on, and how good a time they had together during it. This, too, was appropriate, and while I found it incongruous with the current situation, I think it a good reminder.

Why?

There’s been a lot of discussion in evangelical circles about a seemingly disconcerting tendency among us to minimize death–after all, it is a bit…final, isn’t it. Many folk, not unjustifiably, seem to think that we are following modern society in a denial of death’s impact upon the living, and the belief that to spend longer than a short amount of time in grieving is unhealthy.

I agree with this, but it seems that we might be carrying this a little too far. Consider how the early church treated death. In the letters of Paul–when the writers, especially Paul, refer to dead Christians, they are often spoken of as “having fallen asleep”–a statement, I think, that uttered today would cause some muttering and growling about “euphemistic language” and “denial of the reality of death.”

However, this is Paul we’re talking about. He lived in a world saturated in death and dying. Dying of old age happened early, and infant mortality rates were high. Violent crime was not uncommon, and Rome tended to solve disturbances…violently. And he was not a man known for pulling his punches to make people feel better.

Which means that there’s something there. Maybe it’s reading a little too much into the metaphor, but it seems like Paul’s saying something about death when he calls it sleep. Sleep cuts you off from the world-that-is and from those around you–until, of course you awaken of your own accord or you are awakened by an outside force. Also, if your subconscious doesn’t start romping, it’s not traumatic, although being forcibly put to sleep often is traumatic.

The metaphor can’t be carried too far, of course–when a man is dead, he cannot be killed, while a man asleep can be, and suchlike.

However, the key points are this: Death is temporary, and, given what was said to the thief, is not a sleep with nightmares. The transition can be painful, and the loss to us is painful. But, as to the Christian dead, we should not mourn for them, for they have gained in their passing, and I do not think the dead miss us, especially. We should mourn the loss of them, and acknowledge our bereavement and grief–but also remember that we shall see them again, and, in terms of eternity, soon.

It’s a terrible long wait, I know. If I live to die of old age, my wait to see my grandfather is most likely less than a quarter of the way done, as he died when I was young. For my other grandparents, the wait is not yet begun, but it will begin before I am thirty, most likely.

What I’m trying to say here is, perhaps we should treat death in light of eternity. Seems like the best way to treat most things.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

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