Thoughts on Life and Death

Last Sunday’s church shootings in Colorado were tragic and disturbing. We are, as always, confronted with the question of why a loving God permits such things to happen. The answer cannot be known this side of the Final Judgment. Some say it is because without pain we are unable to appreciate joy. Likewise if we never experience sin, we cannot understand forgiveness. These are good thoughts but I think there's more.

This will sound a little strange at first: death is not nearly as bad as we think. That is not to say that death is a good thing. It wasn’t part of the original plan of Creation, after all. After the Fall of Adam the world became disordered in many ways, including this thing we call death. Death is not natural; it is a consequence of the presence of evil in this world. Christ proved that death can be defeated. Ultimately it will be destroyed. Meanwhile death is a transition we will all face, sooner or later.

What is on the other side of death? For the atheist, the answer is - nothing. We simply stop thinking and cease to exist. Christians have faith that our souls survive the death of our bodies and we will receive an appropriate reward. Yet we still don’t know exactly what lies on the other side of the door. No one has been there and returned to tell us about it. God often gives people the grace to face the moment of death without fear. Nonetheless, in our weakness we still fear this unknown place.

Now try to consider it from God’s perspective. He knows exactly what is waiting for us on the Other Side. He knows how good it is and how much we will like it once we are there. We humans are not capable of understanding this, but God puts us through the experience anyway because He knows it is best for us.

Consider an example. Suppose your dog, whom you love very much, is sick. His illness is easily cured by a trip to the veterinarian and a shot of medicine. Your dog knows from past experience and from watching other dogs that going to the animal clinic is not fun. He therefore resists when you try to take him.

Because you, as a human, are superior to your dog and possess knowledge that he cannot comprehend, you know that you are really doing him a favor. So you drag him to the vet and save him. Will he be grateful? Probably not. He doesn’t understand that he was sick and needed the shot.

We humans are like that dog; we are often incapable of understanding what God is doing to us, and why. In fact, this example understates the difference; the distance between man and God is infinitely greater than the distance between man and dog.

So one way to look at death is that we’re being taken to the vet. The dog struggles, he resists, he is afraid, but ultimately he goes - because he has no choice. Then he is cured. His life is renewed. It was a painful but necessary process.

Were you, as the dog owner, being cruel and heartless to put your dog through this experience? Not at all. You were actually loving and merciful. On some level your dog understands this. He doesn’t know the details; he can’t know, because he is a dog. What he knows is that you love him. For that reason he trusts you.

In this way we should also trust God when we, or those we love, find ourselves facing death. The evidence that God loves us is everywhere. He who created all things, knows all things, and controls all things, loves us all. He knows us as individuals. From His existence outside the constraints of time and space, there are no mysteries. He does not fear death. We need not fear death because we know He gives us Life everlasting.

Now, the fact that we shouldn't fear death does not mean we welcome it. Our humanity, our physical bodies and existence, are gifts from God. Because life is a gift, gratitude demands that we guard it and preserve it until God wishes it to end. We live, quite literally, on borrowed time. In cherishing life, we prepare ourselves for death - and for the different life that lies beyond.

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