Monday, February 23, 2009

O Death Where Is Thy Sting?

When we are very young, the concept of death has not occurred to us. But then, a goldfish, gerbil, cat, or dog dies. Perhaps a grandparent. When we first learn of death it is quite a shock for us. Almost too much for our little minds to take.

As mature adults, perhaps, we learn to ignore death and push it to the back burner. We become busy with work and family. Still, at the back of our minds, we know it is coming.

It has often been said that the problem of evil is the major intellectual objection to Christianity. What the problem of evil ultimately boils down to is that we don't like death. We don't like it when we, or a loved one, dies.

While the problem of evil in general has some superficial plausibility, it does not really carry much weight logically/philosophically. But I wanted to talk to you all today about something much more specific. In particular, the anti-death aspect of the problem of evil.

Do not get me wrong, theodocists don't like death anymore than anybody else. It is a hard concept to reflect upon or 'accept'. However, death is not quite so bad as it may first appear (it is still bad though). In a sense, we even see the merciful hand of God in death. Let me explain.

Where did human death come from in the first place? I take it on faith that we die today because of the sin of Adam. In this context 'Adam' is not only a particular individual but all of mankind en toto. So then, we ourselves were faced with a choice. And libertarian freedom is itself a great good, by the way. Our choice was to obey God as He wanted or to do as we wanted. We were warned very clearly by God that if we ate that forbidden fruit we would die. We were told, "don't do it; you won't like it." It was against God's will for us to rebel against Him and He likes the inevitable consequences of sin-death-even less than we do.

After our Fall in the garden, we were expelled. Even though the garden was paradisaical, it was merciful of God to expel us. Why? I answer that we were expelled from the garden so we could not eat the fruit from the other tree, the tree of life, and live forever. If we stayed in the garden we would live forever in our sins which would be very bad. Moreover, if there were no human death, then Christ could not have come and willingly suffer just like the rest of us and ultimately die for us. If Adam can not die than neither could the second Adam die for us and redeem us.

Immediately after the advent of death, God is already pouring out His mercy on us. Our dying is ultimately our problem. Even after we ignore His guidance, He is still bailing us out of our problems He told us not to get ourselves into.

All of the above is accepted on faith. I do not expect unbelievers to accept it. What unbelievers can however accept is that death is, in a sense, not so bad as it could be. What do I mean?

To see what I am talking about, let us reflect on how people die. It seems to me that there are two main ways in which most people die. First, sometimes a person will die unexpectedly all of a sudden. I had a young friend (about 45 years old) who was driving along a few years back, hit a moose, and died instantly. And we've all heard the horror stories of a high school athlete who drops dead of an unknown heart problem in the middle of a game. Such events are very sobering to the loved ones left behind. But at least the person who died did not suffer.

Alternatively, a person may not be cut down prematurely but grow old gracefully. As we age our bodies progressively work less and less over time. "The mind is the first thing to go." The closer a person gets to the age of death, the less coherent they normally seem to become. When my beloved grandmother was dying I read through the stages of death information provided by the visiting nurses. One of the things mentioned was that the body's metabolism moves slower and slower until it stops. In the process the patient becomes more delusional and less coherent. Since they are not in their right minds they are presumably less aware of the dire straights they are really in. So while they should be worrying about their own death they are reliving the joys of their childhood. They are "in another place" or "somewhere else" than on their deathbed.

I cannot stress strongly enough that some persons, even children, do have drawn out, pain filled, slow deaths. And all of the above words would be little comfort to them and, perhaps even less so, to their parents. I do not wish to paint a false picture here. I am fully aware that death sucks.

Still, as a popular series of melodic-metal compilations says, death is only the beginning. And as C.S. Lewis wrote in "The Last Battle" (the final volume in the Chronicles of Narnia), this life is only the title page, whereas the next life (i.e. for the Christian) is the whole book!

Only one life
Twill soon be past
Only what's done for Christ
Will last

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