I never intended to cover this subject but I was divinely nudged.
Once a week I travel into London for business reasons and, for exercise purposes, this involves a 45 minute stroll from Oxford Street to Pimlico. This week’s journey was eventful, though mostly I didn’t know it at the time. At 8am I passed the Ritz hotel in Piccadilly, unaware that Margaret Thatcher was just about to die in her bed there and was to be the focus of an extended period of national mourning (apart from the street parties in Brixton and Glasgow). Forty minutes later, after a hearty breakfast, I witnessed the aftermath of another death. A lady cyclist had just been killed by a lorry in Victoria Street and, if it hadn’t been for the breakfast, I would have probably witnessed this sad event. This particular death, in contrast with the first one, was a lonely one, a single tarpaulin next to a mangled bike, the emergency services busy on the periphery, with a significant exclusion zone separating the body from the World of the here and now.
Curiously these two deaths had the most coverage in the news services of the day. Perhaps I was the only one aware of their proximity. I felt that this was significant, hence the divine nudge.
It turned out that the lady cyclist was Dr Katharine Giles, a highly respected scientist working at University College, London. Hers had been the second untimely death in her department and her manager later wrote, “we are all left with a sense of the outrageous unfairness with which some of our best colleagues have been taken from us”.
The outrageous unfairness of … death, the greatest taboo of them all. How better to describe the thing that happens to all of us but which none of us would care to speak of … death. It’s so taboo, that I can’t even bring myself to mention the word without a pause … first!
I think that for most of us caught up in the business of living our lives, we just believe that it’s going to go on … and on … and on. Cessation of life is not an option, as it is too unknowable, unthinkable, even outrageous and unfair. Perhaps it’s a remnant of being made in the image of God, that our instinct is one of continuity and everlasting life. Of course, those of us who are Christians are assured of this continuity and everlasting life; perhaps that is why we’re the only ones unafraid of addressing the subject of … death.
Our society fires many mixed messages to us about this subject. Movies these days have enormous kill-counts, mostly casually despatched by the hero in both mundane and imaginative ways. Yet every one of those doomed ones would have had a (fictitious) lifetime of triumphs, failures, significant events and sorrows, only to be snuffed out in a moment, for your entertainment. Think of real life, of the thousands destroyed at the Somme, or Hiroshima or any number of bloody battles in our history. Each life cheaply sacrificed, despite perhaps the heroic context in which many died. How many people living in our current society, without belief system or assurance, could contemplate death in a battle? Is it still this same instinct as mentioned earlier … death is for other people, I’m going to live forever?
Yet, by contrast, modern medicine strives to prolong life, even though it can’t conquer death. Millions of pounds are spent on this mission and people will readily sacrifice quality of life, just to give themselves a little more time. Is it because cessation of life has suddenly become real to them, the unwanted encroachment of the unknowable, unthinkable, unfair inevitability of … death?
How can we live with death and how can we help others to do so, too? We can deal with its inevitability, because we have no control of that, but perhaps we should concentrate on the taboo nature of the subject. If we can strip it bare of society’s fears and foibles, see it in its full nakedness, then perhaps we can start to get an understanding of its true nature. It is time to switch on to the Jesus Mindset, to strip out traditions of man and pagan thought patterns and return to the simple understanding of the Jewish followers of Jesus, specifically the thoughts of rabbi Saul (Paul) and the apostle John.
Death hasn’t always been there; it arrived after Adam’s sin in the Garden (Romans 5:12) and will stay around until the end, when, described as the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26), it is destroyed, being thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). This is where death itself dies; this event is known as the second death. Just before that event, all who had died will be judged and the result of this judgement is surely the most terrifying or amazing thing of all.
Amazing for some …
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
But terrifying for others …
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
And that’s that, really. The rest is just commentary … painfully so. We all need to be in the first group and, to do so, we must avoid membership of the second group. And we do so by believing in God’s Word and receiving willingly His plan for our life.
More in the next article
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Thinking and wondering about death. Do we really have a grip on this?