Yesterday Tim Challies excerpted one of the stories from The Last Enemy. It’s a moving story told by my friend, Jeff Halsted, who then was pastor of Indian River Baptist Church, about 30 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge.
The story illustrates the importance of facing death with your eyes wide open, trusting yourself completely to the victory that Christ has won. Most people seem to be in deep denial about their demise. I discovered a shocking number of platitudes while researching The Last Enemy, and post here the top ten rationalizations on death.
10. Death is the cosmic Etch a Sketch. It shakes everything up and gives you a fresh start for the next life.
Actually that one comes from Mitt Romney, and oddly enough, it was submitted by Rick Santorum. The next ones are real.
9. Death is necessary to have closure.
You can’t evaluate something that doesn’t end, so we must die so we can wrap up our lives and say what they meant. Imagine the existential crisis of this person on the new earth. “Why, Lord? What does my unending life even mean?”
8. Death maximizes our human potential.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross gave us the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She herself seemed stuck on the first stage, for she claimed that death is actually a step up for the soul: “When people die, they very simply shed their body, much as a butterfly comes out of its cocoon.” Death is merely a door into a higher state of consciousness where we continue to play, laugh, and grow.
Likewise, most people think everyone who dies continues to do the things they love, only better and in heaven. Weekend golfers are suddenly hitting all the celestial fairways, middling musicians are jamming in heaven’s band, and people who were pains in the neck here are really annoying up there. We may want this romanticized notion of death to be true, but why should we think it is?
7. Death liberates us to do our best.
Steve Jobs said this at his 2005 Stanford Commencement: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
I commented on this a while ago, but I’ll say now that while death may liberate us to go for broke, only the resurrection can move us to cash out (1 Cor. 15:58).
6. Death makes room for others to take your place.
Also from Steve Jobs’ Stanford speech: “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.”
I wonder how helpful this thought was to Steve as he lay dying. Would any pastor or hospice worker actually say this to a dying person—“well, this certainly stinks for you, but look at the young person who can now take your job and feed their family. It’s all good.”
5. Death unites us with the force.
Yoda told Anakin, “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.”
4. Death is not the end of anything. I believe all of us are only energy that becomes matter. When the matter goes away, the energy still exists. You can’t destroy it. It never dies. It manifests itself somewhere else.
This one comes from Willie Nelson. I don’t know if he was stoned when he said it, but I’ve got my suspicions.
3. We will live on in the memories of our loved ones.
In Tuesdays with Morrie, Morrie told Mitch Albom: “As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on—in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here….Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
Even if it were enough to be nothing more than someone’s memory, this form of existence won’t last longer than a generation or two. When was the last time you thought about your great-grandparents? In two generations that will be you: out of sight, out of mind, out of existence.
2. We won’t be worse off than before we were born.
The atheist Richard Dawkins picked up on a quote from Mark Twain and said that “Being dead will be no different from being unborn—I shall be just as I was in the time of William the Conqueror or the dinosaurs or the trilobites.” Remember, this is his best case scenario.
1. Death is natural, a normal part of the circle of life.
This is the most popular rationalization, and it’s a killer. Imagine the terror and hopelessness for people who actually believe this.