Death is a unique obsession of American culture. It is something we work at all costs to avoid. Industries have sprung up to delay death’s approach with exercise, healthy eating, medication, and medical procedures. I find myself quite mused at those who, in the attempt to preserve their lives, end up looking preserved. All this seems to ignore that death is one of the most natural aspects of human existence. For all practical purposes, everyone who has ever lived has died, including Jesus.
J.R.R. Tolkien had his own unique perspective on death in the Silmarillion. In the book, which contains the history of Middle-Earth, he calls death Iluvatar’s gift to men, though men rarely perceived it as such. In our own world we rarely think of death as a gift either. In the Bible death is God’s punishment to Adam, Eve, and their descendants for sin. The book of Romans declares that the wages of sin is death, yet even a punishment can turnout to be an act of grace.
Death puts a fixed limit to evil. Think what life would have been like if God had not punished Adam and Eve with death for their rebellion. A worse punishment, and perhaps more fitting, would have been to let them live forever in the filth they created, with no escape. Imagine a Stalin or Hitler without death to stop them. I imagine that hell will be something like that. God will no longer be there to hold back all man’s sinful desires. People will get exactly what they want, but it will not turn out as they expected and once they have already died there will be no second death. Rage, malice, violence, selfishness, pride, division, sloth, lust, lies, sexual immorality, greed, and the like free-wheeling in a living hell.
It is only through death that we can get rid of this sinful, broken body and live as God fully intended. I don’t what to have this body in the condition it is for eternity. For starters, sinful desires and habits are still alive and active. I can’t wait for them to die. Second, my body is full of aches and pains and can only go down hill from here. Even the best doctors cannot restore to new, they can only fix. For Christians, death will be a re-birth into a new kind of life, something that is prefigured when one accepts Christ and in baptism.
Death is a punishment for sin, but a loving punishment designed to produce a greater good. I think it is for this reason the Bible tells us to not love this life too much. When we do, we become reluctant to leave it, like someone trying to straddle a boat and the dock for as long as possible. Trying to get both you may end up getting neither and landing in the drink. As Jesus said, whoever wants to save his life will lose it and whoever will lose his life for my sake will save it.
I realize that I have posted twice in a row about death so I will try to have something happier next week.