Monday, October 16, 2006

Thoughts on death and sundry other topics

I spoke tonight with a friend whose grandmother just passed away. The details are private, and certainly need no going into here before all the world; my friend's grief is too personal for that. Suffice it to say that, as any of us would, this friend is struggling immensely with the questions posed by a death coming relatively quickly and unexpectedly: "Why?" is of course among them, but so is, "Couldn't there have been some warning? Shouldn't we have had the chance to know that the last time we saw her would be our last this side of eternity?" Grief for one who has passed is such a strange thing. On the one hand, we rejoice for those who die if they are saved - and this woman definitely is - but there remains in us an undeniable and irrefutable sense that This is not what ought to be.

C. S. Lewis argued in Mere Christianity that our own heart's responses to various situations tell us a great deal about reality - that is, that if we have a desire for spirituality, it is because the spiritual exists (he uses the analogy that if we are hungry, it is because there is such a thing as food; if we are sexually driven, it is because there is such a thing as sex, and so forth - his analogy, not mine). I think the same thing can be said of our experiences with death in many regards. Our hearts fundamentally reject this notion of people being torn from us. Although at a rational level, we are aware that all people die at some point in time, our reason and our intellect are incapable of overcoming the sheer flood of emotion that arises in times of loss. We grieve. We mourn. We inexplicably (but unavoidably) have in us this unbearable sensation that a part of us is torn away, that something has gone horribly amiss, that this is not what ought to be. Why? Reason has no answer in and of itself, except insofar as it points us to God and His Answer.

I have yet to hear a compelling - or even remotely plausible - naturalistic explanation for the phenomenon of grief. There is no reason for it to exist, that emotional reaction that inhibits normal functioning for weeks at the barest minimum, that informs our every waking thought for months to come, that shapes the course of our lives forever. The only answer I have ever heard which in any way makes sense is that provided by the Biblical narrative. We mourn and grieve because we know that this really is not what was meant to be. Life is what ought to be; instead we find death - a jarring, disorienting shift from all our preconceptions. We cannot begin to comprehend not existing as we do now; we cannot ever truly wrap our minds around the fact that we will not live forever as we are. Every person I have ever spoken with has, at some level, had the same basic (seemingly irrational) sense that they do not plan on dying. Nor should they - because our natural state (by which I mean our original state) is to not die. If we feel that way, it is because it is so.

We were not meant for carnality, for temporality, but rather for eternity. We were not created as beings of mere decaying flesh, but as beings of undying spirit. And we know this at a fundamental level, know it so strongly that when death comes rushing in to contradict our feeble grasp at eternity, we simply are unable to understand it. The interruption is so abrupt - no matter how gradual the passing, it seems to always be a surprise - and the shock so severe that our minds simply refuse to process that the person is ultimately and utterly gone. Again, when we ask, at a rational level, why this reaction exists, we are left with two choices - (a) it is the sheer chance product of forces operating without regard to morality or sympathy for those in the system, or (b) humanity was not created with death in mind.

All of this is ultimately academic, though, unless we remember that it is a real God we are dealing with, capable of solving real problems in the real world with real people. Like you and me. And this is a problem that we created, but that He solved, using the real Person of Himself the Son incarnate, fully God and fully man, overcoming death for our sake. For our sake. Death is not natural; it is not what we were created for - and it no longer rules us. My friend's grandmother is alive right now, with Christ Jesus for all eternity. In some ways, I envy that woman: no more pain, no more sorrow, no more sin, no more death; everything that is so horribly wrong in this world is completely made right for her. One day we will all be on that side - eagerly should we await the day!

I ask that, as the Lord leads, you would pray for my friend and her family as they deal with this situation. And I ask that you carefully consider how you live your life - is it kingdom-focused and kingdom-led? Or is it merely the sum of your own personal wants and desires? I know that all often, mine is the latter, rather than the former. And it's (still) time to (continue) change(-ing) that. Praise be to God, for whom "[we] have been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in His name, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29). Walk in peace, in strength, in Godliness and virtue!

- Chris


  1. Hm. Good word brother. You're a good writer.

  2. I agree! Everything you write makes me think more about my faith and relationship with Jesus


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