What to think of death? Medically, death is the termination of all functions of life up to the cellular level. However, its salient impact and relevance would be the cultural ones. “Death” is found in all languages. In particular is “Wang” which means death in Chinese. It connotes destruction, departure or elimination. Surely, this cut throat designation conveys a gut wrenching event. “Extinction” best capture its finality and horror as archeologists refer to the dinosaurs’ demise. Maybe that is why death is often used as a weapon against one’s enemy, or as a way to deal with emptiness, to self-punish for guilt or a dare to pain in defiance thru suicide.
How have we so misunderstood and misused death. We use it to solve our problems, when it is the problem we need to solve. Many have tried. There’s the quest for a fountain of youth, others try philosophy. It is explained as a release from this evil world achieved thru endless cycles. But this is like going under the knife multiple times till one pays it all and gets it right. Isn’t that endless pain, not endless life?
Some soften it by regarding it as “passing from this world.” But if it is mere passing, do we reappear somewhere? If it is cessation of cellular functions, I better eat healthy. If it is extinction, I’ll worry less about doing the right thing and just enjoy myself. If in death there is no longer any consciousness, then I’ll use it to end my troubles. But if there is a continuation, then where is it and how much time do I have to prepare? “Becoming one of the stars” lifts the heart in bereavement. Holding someone’s memory forever in one’s heart warms the cold reality. But what kind of existence is that? These euphemisms attempts to make sense of life, to help us overcome the pain. These do not assuredly tell us what lies ahead, but somehow they provide a relief from the grief of losing a loved one, and the agony of the unknown, of not seeing them again.
The end is the end. What more is there to talk about? Right? But I beg to differ. Death is part of one’s life, though it comes at the end. Not giving it importance is like watching a movie that is suddenly cut, it’s meaningless. The fact is though the future is unknown, death is not. A good ending comes from knowing it’s coming and developing it. Write it into your life, but how?
O death, where is thy sting. Death is the last enemy. By His stripes we are healed.
Jesus actually predicted, planned, preached and prepared for His own death and resurrection. He changed everything about death and how we too can prepare to enter the land of the living, not the dead.
Instead of theorizing or romanticizing death, be down to earth, grounded in evidence. This is where the Easter story is pivotal to our understanding of death. To date, the resurrection of Christ is one of the best attested historical event by scholars, both Christian and non-Christian. What awaits after death is no longer a mystery, but a tangible hope echoed in “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies.” Thus, the resurrection has changed billions of lives from one of despair to hope, from meaningless to purposeful, from goodbye to see you later. Easter is where death becomes a continuation of our existence, not the end. Like a door one enters into another room. the story does not end with death. Jesus uniquely used the metaphor of sleep. Lazarus was dead for four days, but Jesus said He would wake him up from sleep. Lazarus came back to life. Finality becomes temporary. Death becomes temporary to all who believe.
In an age where certainty is frowned upon, absolute truth is replaced by relativity, and faith is regarded as unscientific, there is still no answer, and therefore no end to pain. Death is a fact, it hurts, it disrupts, and facts do not care about feelings, status, gender or age. But then there’s the fact of the resurrection. Then what?
Quick check: November 2, 2023 is All Souls' Day. What are your thoughts after reading this? How does your idea of death hold up? What makes you certain of it? Small step: Rest in peace" is comforting only if you have found peace already. Have you made the peace?
* Reference: Gary Habermas, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?; Anthony Flew, “There is A God”; and https://www.bethinking.org/jesus/ancient-evidence-for-jesus-from-non-Christian Sources.