We all know we’re going to die. We all nod our heads with a solemn expression whenever we hear someone remind us of this fact. Yet despite our knowledge, we (particularly western young evangelicals) don’t really seem to believe it.
It’s not all our fault. We live in a culture that’s increasingly trivialized death. Death now is relegated to the hospital rather than the home. “Kills” has become a way to describe how well you performed in a battle-emulating video game. The media turns death into a number and puts an almost incomprehensible distance between us and the death that occurs daily in a fallen world.
In some ways we might see this ignorance as a blessing. After all, death is a terribly tough thing to come to grips with. But a lack of awareness about death, also brings an increasing ignorance of the transcendent. If life is going to just keep on marching on, all we start to care about is what is immediately around us. God becomes quite distant, and, if we’re honest, not really needed in our day to day lives; life goes on whether we seem to be walking with him or not. We lose track of the fact that our very existence is held in his hands, and with a word he could tell our hearts to stop beating. Life becomes about life now.
But the Christian message is radically different. For the Christian, life is not ever about life now; it’s about life after death. Death is used as a crucial analogy for what it looks like to follow Christ: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Daily, our call is to die to ourselves, yet we don’t even understand death enough to comprehend the metaphor.
Furthermore, the Church was founded on the concept of death. It looked to the death of Christ as the prime example of the way to live as Christians were persecuted and killed. As Tertullian famously put it, “the blood of the martyrs is seed.” For the Christian, death always brings life, it is always seed, but what we forget is it is ultimately the only way to life. The only way to truly live is through the death of Christ, and ultimately we can only be resurrected if we first die. Ignoring death abstracts the concepts of resurrection and life, and makes the unachievable.
So what do we do? I don’t think the answer is writing emo songs, and getting down about life. Life is a delight, and if you talk to those who have come near to death, they feel that even more intensely. But perhaps we do need ask more questions about death and how it fits into our lives rather than doing our best to ignore it. We need to start exploring how death can be a powerful moment of identification with Christ, not just something we never want to experience. We ought to seek to truly understand what it means to die to ourselves in the fullness of that metaphor (something the Church has understood for the majority of its history). We need to ask ourselves the questions that we don’t like to ask, the questions that deal with the passing nature of life and our purpose. Facing these questions brings us to a new level of awe of God’s transcendence, as well as a new level of appreciation of his grace.
It’s high time we get a little more curious about death.