Death is a throbbing silence, an offensive vacuum from which we cannot look away. Is he really gone? Will we really go, too?
We try to avoid thinking about death, but it often buts its way into life. My grandpa died this month, and his death has forced the questions on me. A funeral, the death of a public figure, a grave illness, a near-death experience may have pressed them on you.
Not only that, when humanity’s professional thinkers–that is, philosophers–think about life, they often end up focusing on death. For example, Paul Achtemeier summarizes Heidegger’s thoughts on the subject this way:
The realization of his death as an individual, alone, confronts the self with a moment of self-transparency: he sees himself as finite, and is faced with the choice of accepting that fact, and thus acknowledging himself as he truly is, or forgetting that fact by reimbursing himself in ‘them,’ in forgetfulness of his true self.
-Paul Achtemeier paraphrasing Heidegger in An Introduction to the New Hermeneutic, p.38
Does death really define life? Do we forget our true selves unless we remember that we’re dying? In light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, yes and no. Yes, what we think about death is central. Yet, “no,” because when we look toward death, we see our “living hope.” Peter tells his congregations, scattered across the land:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
-1 Peter 1:3-5
The secret is not to master “thinking about death” by learning to look our own death in the eye and be at peace with it. The secret is that Jesus Christ has mastered death by dying and rising again. We are not at peace with death; we are in the ranks of the King who was at war with it. We are in the ranks of Him who defeated it. We are in the ranks of Him who is about to wipe away ever mark of its dominion.
Perhaps life was about what we thought about death, but we have now been born again into a living hope, in which life is about what Jesus Christ has done about death. When we look at death, we see, just beyond that dim silence, the riches of the great mercy of God, knowing that Jesus Christ who ascended to heaven will soon return from there with our imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance, ready to be revealed in the last time: Resurrection, resurrection bodies, and a resurrection life like His.