Dave's Deliberations

Random jottings from David Matthew, a Christian teacher and writer whose main website is www.davidmatthew.org.uk

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Location: Castleford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Married since 1962 to Faith. We have three wonderful children and three equally wonderful grandchildren.

October 06, 2004

A Good Death

In the Victorian era the great taboo was sex. Death, by contrast, was an open topic, prominent in everyone's thinking and freely discussed.

Today, it's the other way round. Sex is the everyday topic, with death the great taboo. People are into death-denial, hoping maybe that a robust enough pretence that it doesn't exist will somehow make it go away.

The secular Westerner defaults to the view that when you die you disappear up the crematorium chimney in a puff of smoke, and that's it. No afterlife. No judgment. No nothing. So let's get the funeral over, then we can get busy again with living. We'll turn the radio on to churn out pop music in the background and, with a bit of luck, death will retreat once again to the fringes of our consciousness.

Death as taboo has even touched Christians. In 'charismatic' circles especially, where people believe in God's power to heal the sick, there's a tendency to emphasise the healing option to the point where the possibility of death is ignored. Usually, it's on the basis that to acknowledge it would be the kind of 'negative confession' that allegedly puts a spanner in the wheels of the healing mechanism.

A Christian acquaintance has just died of cancer. In the grim final stages of the disease he was surrounded by well-meaning Christians who warned visitors 'not to say anything negative' to him. By that they meant, 'Don't mention death.' What a pity! By this blinkered attitude they robbed him of the privilege of what an earlier generation of Christians called 'a good death'.

And what is that? It's looking death straight in the eye with the challenge, 'O death, where is your sting?'—on the grounds that Jesus, by his own death, has drawn its sting. It's admitting, 'I'm on my way out, folks, but death is for me just a curtain through which I'll soon step right into the presence of the Lord I love, so be glad for me!' It's gathering the family around, saying a bold goodbye to each one, with a smile amid the tears and the reminder that we'll meet again in glory. It's dispensing a blessing on those soon to be left behind. It's a satisfied, 'OK, Lord, now you can take me anytime you want.'

A good death inspires the bereaved family. It fills sons and daughters with faith and hope. It reminds them that this life is no more than the ante-room of the life to come, so they should work at keeping their priorities right. Dying in denial, on the other hand, has harmful effects. It leaves a flavour of 'unfinished business' in the air. It robs the family of a warm, hope-filled leave-taking. It can destroy the faith of vulnerable children who naively believe that the assurances of last-minute healing must be fulfilled.

Denial of death is based on imbalanced doctrine. That the Lord is able to heal, and does heal, no serious Bible-believer can deny. But that he must heal, provided we press the right proof-text buttons and steer clear of 'negative confessions' is nonsense. In this present age we have merely 'tasted the powers of the coming age'; the full banquet, where healing is permanent and death is no more, awaits the age to come, after Christ's return. We err if we hold that none of the powers of the coming age are available today. And we err just as much if we hold that all of them are ours now. Death-denial comes in the latter category and is a tragic error.

Let's be open to God's healing grace and, at the same time, recognise that unless Jesus returns first, death is a prospect we all must face. And when it comes, let's face it with dignity.

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