Death and Dying
You are going to die. I must admit I’ve always wanted to start a blog that way. But why is this phrase generally taken as a threat when uttered. Don’t believe me? I dare you to walk up to a stranger in the grocery store and gently whisper to them, “You are going to die.” You’ll have makeshift security guards on you quicker than you can get out of the self-checkout line simply for stating a fact of life.
When I heard the recent news of Walter Cronkite dying, I had a peculiar thought that went something like, “There sure have been a lot of people dying lately.” Then I realized the foolishness of that thought when I quickly remembered that the death rate has been eerily consistent since the creation of humanity. Why am I shocked, or even moderately surprised, when people like Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, David Carradine, Steve McNair or Walter Cronkite die? Without being insensitive or downright harsh, death is a part of life and it comes to us all. In fact you are one day closer to the day that you will no longer be on earth, and so am I. But simply stating this fact is seen by most as a threat to people in our society for some odd reason. No one I know gets threatened when I mention statistics about the facts of cancer, car accidents or AIDS. But there is something that causes us to feel violated when it gets down to the personal, “YOU are going to die.”
I would like to say this is a new phenomenon birthed out of our super exorbitant and shallow society, but the truth is humans have had a problem with death since at least the beginning of documented history. I recently heard that King Philip V of Spain had monks praying around the clock for his soul in preparation for the day he would die because he had a deep-seated fear of death. This is just one of thousands of examples from history of odd ways people have responded to the subject of death and dying. Most of us take a different route and just try to remove anything that would make us dwell on it for too long (why do you think we put our grandparents in nursing homes). It is safe to say that learning how to cope with this harsh reality is something humans still haven’t quite mastered.
While I was in undergrad at Baylor, there were a lot of electives that seemed to range from boring to odd to intriguing. One that seemed to fit in the odd category for me was a class called “Death and Dying.” I almost signed up for it at one point because I had recently experienced loss in my own life, but then I thought, “What is this professor going to teach me about death and dying?” If you take marketing classes, chances are that professor has marketed something his or herself. If you take preaching (like I did in seminary), you listen to the professor because he has preached a lot of sermons. But “Death and Dying” seemed pointless to me because the professor had not died himself. And this gets at the root of what we fear as humans when it comes to death and dying: the unknown. The only way that we could possibly know what happens to someone when they die is to have someone go through it and come back to tell us about it. I’m not talking about a shadowy figure of the person that dies coming back to tell you about it in a dream, either; I’m saying someone would actually have to die and come back to life in order for us to have a concept of what happens to someone when they die and ultimately relieve our fears about “life on the other side.”
This is where I believe Christianity intersects real life and answers a fundamental question that every human since the dawn of time has had: “Is there life after death?” If you subscribe to the Christian story, then you believe that God became flesh in the person of Christ, went through the searing pain of death that we all experience as humans, and then God conquered death through resurrection thus giving us hope for life after death.
The writer of Hebrews talks about this very idea in chapter 2 of the letter. It says, “Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15 MSG) Another way this is put is that Christ has set “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
So my question for you is, are you afraid to die? This is not meant to be a scare tactic or a way to push my beliefs on anyone, but is simply meant to confront a reality of life. If you are dismayed over the thought of your death or the death of someone you loved (including MJ), then I suggest you square with it one way or another. And the hope I share with you is my fundamental belief that one has died and come back to life in order to tell us what it is like. And it is he who says, “ I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”