How many of you have watched a movie where the main character is fully intertwined with a disturbing psychosis or a painful physical disability or disease? How the movie unfolds will depend largely upon the philosophical choices about life and death believed by those producing the show. You might see the main character fight for life. Or you just might watch the character deliberately seek out a sympathizing organization and friends who will assist and hasten death. Is death your friend or your enemy?
In the Star Wars saga, I believe that Yoda says something rather hollow, “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.” So would you invite Yoda to come speak to your family in a memorial service as you remember a loved one who has died?
On the other hand, let me look at this from another angle. In the natural world, I do find some beauty in death. There is a Japanese type of art labelled Wabi-sabi – where one “pursues beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature and embraces the natural cycles of growth, decay, and death.”
As an illustration, my youngest boy and I drove recently to the top of the Teton Pass, parked our car, and hiked to the top of Mt. Glory. On this mountain, you will see that the marred, asymmetrical, twisted or dead trees are just as breathtaking in their structure and beauty as the properly proportioned living trees.
And in observing humans, I would be bold enough to say that the wrinkled, blemished bodies of aged grandparents are more beautiful than the hottest bodies in Hollywood. Physical perfection is so overrated in America, especially in the I-15 Corridor of the Intermountain West. My young Idaho pastor friend, Christopher Leavell, who died last year of cancer, portrayed the art of Wabi-sabi so well in his photography and in his life.
But as I acknowledge this Japanese perspective, it is not to undermine what I believe about death itself. Where Sherwin Nuland writes, “Death is not the enemy, disease is.” I wholeheartedly disagree. Death is not my friend.
Death is not natural. And human death is even worse than the death of trees. When I cut down a tree in my backyard, I might have ten new shoots spring up. When a man or woman is cut off (dies), it is the end. The person does not pop up again; there is a sad finality.
Some of the ancient biblical writers had nothing good to say about death. One of the reasons they abhorred death is because they would be removed from giving testimony to the truth and glory of God among the people.
- King David reasoned with God, “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5).
- “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your truth?” (Psalm 30:9).
- When King Hezekiah miraculously recovered from a terminal illness, he declared, “For Sheol cannot thank You, death cannot praise You; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth. The living, the living man, he shall praise You, as I do this day” (Isaiah 38:18).
- The wise preacher in Ecclesiastes urges, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
So the question is do we fight for life because we hate death or do we resign ourselves to death because we think it is our friend?
I recently read a story in our local newspaper about a woman in California who threw a party with her friends before committing herself to an assisted suicide. Then I compare this to my brother-in-law who fought terminal cancer all the way up to a few days before his death.
I will never forget the courage my brother-in-law displayed. He climbed his home stairs like one in the death zone of Mt. Everest. Every step took effort as his body craved oxygen. He ate and drank with determination. He fought for life.
I see this issue as black and white. Jesus is life. Sin, the devil, and the world’s lies are death. Thank Jesus that He died so that we can shout victory in the face of our enemy called death.