Safety, or the illusion of it, has become an obsession in America. We do not want to see or know about the horrors of the world even if they are creeping up on us. Death is avoided unless it is in a game where you get multiple lives. We make light of phrases like, “I’ll kill you.” or “I just about died.” Almost as if making light of it, makes us more desensitized to the weight of it.
Everyone dies, unless you’re Enoch, Elijah, or part of the Rapture. People fear thinking about issues, meditating on the truth, or contemplating the consequences of their actions. Death is a thought best avoided to most. Why think about it? So, we live it up, driving our selves into the ground with purposeless pursuits trying to outrun death and when “it” does happen, “it” is a terrible tragedy with a hundred euphemisms.
Death happens to people in third world countries with Aids, Aunt Doris, and the drug addicts. I have friends who have never been to a funeral, maybe remember their grandparents dying, or only experience it once they become an adult. It comes as a complete shock to them.
I don’t understand that. I remember my first visit to a dying man’s bedside. I was six. I don’t think my parents thought I would remember. There were tubes everywhere. He was on a respirator and his bed was at the far end of the room. There was one other bed in the room and their was no one with the woman one curtain over. Dad pulled up a doctor’s stool and I stood on the other side just watching. The man who was dying had been one of my Sunday School teachers. He was a magician and I remember wondering for a little bit if this was just a trick and he would pop up and be all better. Daddy prayed with him and read to him. They talked a little. My teacher was very quiet and didn’t talk much. Before we left I held his hand and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He smiled a little. He died in the next few days.
Around the same time, my mom’s cousin died in a horrible drunk driving accident. I remember mom crying and packing in her room while I sat on the floor playing with my kittens. Since then many people have died: grandparents, friends, friends’ parents, mentors, people who picked on me.
I remember sitting hospital waiting room with a friend of mine’s grandmother while his little brother had his stomach pumped and my dad talked to the doctor’s while his mom held the bottles of pills he had gotten into. He was alright, but I remember seeing his mom’s face when we drove by the hospital and she was standing their dazed.
In school, a friend of mine died after trying to play a joke on her parents. One day she was laughing at me for spilling lead on stage during a science competition and the next day she was gone.
Death is so close, but we try to avoid it. We say life is fragile and precious, but we never talk about how we are all dying. When you turn twenty five, cells start dying faster than they regenerate. I feel it and I’m twenty, mostly in my knees and lower back, but I am constantly aware of the result of and reason for that deterioration.
This brings us back to sin, man’s fallen state, our continual curse, and our need for Christ, the Life.
When contemplating death, it is natural to think about what happens next, hell or heaven.
Jonathan Edwards wrote in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,
“And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope. There are the black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff on the summer threshing floor.”
Death and destruction loom over every damned soul as they profane the name of God just by existing sinfully in the presence of a holy, holy, holy God.
The Beauty in this?
And yet, Christ, holiness incarnate, came and took the curse upon himself, suffering the punishment, and defeating not only the eternal curse, but death itself.
John Donne wrote so beautifully,
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
The gravity of death brings us closer to Christ, nearer my God to Thee.