The Significance of Death
I just finished teaching a course in literature and ideas, part of an accelerated program for working adults earning business-related degrees at Baker University School of Professional and Graduate Studies. One comment that came out of class discussions about the short stories they'd read was this: Why do nearly all of the stories deal with death and dying?
The answer lies partly in the selections placed in that particular anthology and partly in the fact that a lot of great literature grapples with that essential aspect of our humanity. In answering the question, "What does it mean to be human?" we must respond in part: "To be mortal." Perhaps this conjures up remembrance of Aristotle's classical logic syllogism:
Insert your name there and you have a basic fact of life. Death awaits us all, in spite of de León's elusive "fountain of youth," billions of dollars spent in the cosmetic, organ transplant, and cosmetic surgery industries, and costly scientific research in cryogenics. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that it is appointed to every human to die once, and after that to be judged (though there are exceptions for Enoch, Elijah, and those living believers who will be "caught up" according to 1 Thessalonians 4: 17). But apart from a saving faith in the Redeemer Jesus Christ, with the assurances and hope that we have in Him, we are doomed to return to dust or ashes and live on merely "in the memory of loved ones"—but only so long as they live. Then what?
This takes us to a fundamental issue of worldviews. I've often heard Christianity spoken of as being too exclusive; it is criticized as being "either/or" rather than "both/and." However, other worldviews are more exclusive when it comes to their central focus and their attitude about death.
The modernists (western culture apart from a Judeo-Christian heritage) focus entirely on the material or physical realm. They overemphasize the importance of nature and the tangible, which is the same worldview presented in ancient mythology and nature worship. The postmodernists discount the physical realm as simply the construct of our sensory experience; they hold that humans create whatever truth exists. (Sounds a bit like the serpent's promise in the garden—"You will be like God.") Eastern cultures (apart from Judeo-Christian beliefs) hold that only this non-physical, spirit realm is real and good. So, is there a way to merge both points of reference?
Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. does so in his book Loving God with All Your Mind: Thinking as a Christian in the Postmodern World (Rev. ed., Crossway Books, 2003). Since God created all that exists in the physical realm and holds it together, it has value and reality. Since God created humans in His image (spiritual), there is value to every human life and a definite reality to the spiritual realm. Since God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a human (truly God and truly man, not just half and half) and died and was raised from the dead in order to redeem mankind from sin and death, both realms of existence—physical and spiritual—are real, valuable, and worthy.
Our Creator/Redeemer bridged the gap, guaranteeing life after death. So, even though one's body may become dust, there will be another body to house the eternal spirit. Mortality is part of the human condition (because sin entered); immortality is also part of the human condition. Both the physical realm and the spiritual realm are proven valid in the Christian worldview.
This was made very precious to me as I read the Hallel Psalms this recent Passover. Psalms 113-114 are traditionally read before the Passover meal, and Psalms 115-118 and 136 are read after the meal. To anyone who picks the Psalm and verse which I am going to go into next in this discussion of life, death, and the human experience, I will give a signed copy of my collection of poetry, Angel Unaware: Poems (AuthorHouse, 2011). Just send your guess via the contact button on the webpage or email to [email protected] If you've guessed correctly, I'll contact you by email for shipping information.
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