April 16, 2015
Are efforts to "redesign" the experience of death in keeping with a Christian understanding of mortality?
Good thoughts. I completely agree, actually. The way we treat death in the West has bothered me for awhile: "I want my funeral to be a celebration of my life!; I should be able to choose exactly when and how I can die, so that I can die with dignity!; etc.". People will so aggressively seek distraction from the reality of what just happened that sometimes the solemnity just isn't there, much less any sort of serious praying for the repose of their friends' or family's souls. And the immature view of death that pushes them into behaving like that will push them into ridiculous philosophical positions, like the idea that it's okay for a physician to literally kill you as long as you're already dying and you provide consent.
Modern views of death are just so bizarre and depressing (as if the innate sadness of death weren't enough!). The truth is that death is the "last enemy" (as St. Paul put it) from which none of us are excused. Even Jesus didn't want to experience it... “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” It's an awful thing. But that's okay. I'm not saying that we need to stop using pain meds or whatever-- but we've got to maintain awareness of the immorality the desire to "redesign" death pushes us toward.
I recently hosted a screening and discussion of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (which is all about confronting mortality) and a cancer researcher who was part of the panel brought up a good point. Ironically, the more of a medical handle we've gotten on the process of death, the more anxious we seem to have become about it, largely because it has removed the experience from being one of community/culture/religion. (These days, few people die in their homes surrounded by family and friends.) So I think some sort of ritual, beyond medical care, is helpful in processing the experience of death - though of course as Christians we believe that ritual should be rooted in hope for the life to come.
"Though painful, death doesn’t need new meaning, but properly understood meaning." Amen. I think the meaning that has to be driven home--the meaning our world finds inscrutable--is that death only came into the world as a mercy. In Genesis we're told that after Adam was driven from the garden, God placed an angel to guard its entrance, "Lest he should eat of the Tree of Life and live forever." In other words...the reason we die is not just because of sin working itself out in our bodies, but because in His sovereign mercy, the Creator chose to prevent us from realizing the even greater horror of being immortalized as sinners instead of glorified as members of His Son. Thanks for your timely reminder.
It is also worth considering that individual perceptions of death is a partial reflection of one's culture. What this means is that every culture has an assigned meaning to death. I completely agree with the statement, "properly understood meaning." However, I would qualify that statement to be more explicit that there's a Biblical/Scriptural meaning.
On an academic level, there is a need to continuously remind what Scripture say about death and related matters mainly because people will come up with their thoughts and ideas without intentionally going against Scripture. Death is so inevitable that one's experience of death (neighbor's or relative, etc.) opens a pandora's box of questions.
The more critical considerations are at the local church level. When a person learns of a terminal disease, does the horror of that news have space at his or her local church? Do we have space to grieve properly at church?
I think we can also hold our judgment about how other people grieve (A dying person also grieves as one waits for the end to arrive.) Is it biblical to pay for things in anticipation of, etc.? We journey with people with the level of truth that they are able to handle and receive.
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