Though I’m still (in my opinion!) a dashing young man, I’ve been reflecting lately on death. It’s something which Christianity seems to have a fascination with.
Hindus declare that God is gloriously unknowable; Buddhists claim that God, rather than being an individual being, is a presence discovered in everything; Islam believes in a God who is so eternal and powerful that he doesn’t resemble anything in creation and is ‘unimaginable’; faithful Jews share with the world a God who is a creator beyond all constructs of time and space.
And Christians? “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” – 1 Corinthians 1:23
We are saying to the world: God died.
And what a ‘stumbling block’ that appears to be! For death is the greatest fear of mankind. We rush through our lives, hoping to achieve all our dreams before our life, our short and fragile life, is taken from us! It seems so unnatural and contrary to our deepest desires. And so we rebel against it. We are desperately trying to squeeze every last moment of life out of our tired bodies, staving off disease and searching for the secret to immortality. Out of a fear of death through over-population and other unfounded theories, we kill our children and sterilise our families.
Why would Jesus Christ enter into this horrible finality?
Because this ‘stumbling block’ is in fact just the preface to an even greater claim: God rose from the dead and “because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning” – CCC 1010. We weren’t made for death! Death entered the world through sin, and Jesus Christ came to give us hope of life after death.
In death, God calls man to himself. Therefore the Christian can experience a desire for death life St. Paul’s: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ.” He can transform his own death into an act of obedience and love towards the Father, after the example of Christ.
- CCC 1011
In JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy world, encompassing The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and less-known works such as The Silmarillion, death is the ‘Gift of Men’. Among Elves, Dwarves, Ents, and even Hobbits, Men are the most short-lived. “The length of our days is seventy years–or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” -Psalm 90:10. Yet this death is still a gift, for Men are the only race whose soul passes out of the world until the End of Time when “the spirits of Men shall be included in this even greater theme, when all of the players will know and understand their part and its relation to the whole, and be tributary to its beauty and glory.” Read more about Tolkien’s ‘Gift of Men’ here.
Because of Jesus Christ, death is no longer the fear which hangs over our lives. Yes, there is still suffering – Christ’s death showed that clearly – but it is by our suffering in this world and eventually by our death that we can be admitted entrance to the New Heaven and New Earth.
God bless you all,