Showing posts with label Death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Death. Show all posts

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Impossible Problem

When Jarred Cinman wrote an opinion piece for his blog in 2015 entitled “The five best reasons not to believe in God”, I doubt he imagined he was breaking new ground in the ongoing debate over whether the world would be better off without religion. He couldn’t have. After all, he quoted Stephen Fry, whose own swipes at God have prompted the occasional comment in this space.

Unbelief is hardly a novel concept.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Anonymous Asks (259)

“What does it mean to be dead to sin?”

The phrase “dead to sin” comes from the language of Romans 6, in almost every translation you can find. Paul starts with “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” He ends with “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Fair enough. So what DOES that mean exactly?

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Reflections on the Way to the Crematorium

So I’m on my way to the crematorium the other day …

It occurs to me that line probably requires a bit of backstory. It wasn’t a people crematorium. Technically, it wasn’t even traditional cremation. No fire was involved. This was a “green alternative” process known as aquamation, or water cremation, which uses 90% less energy to produce the same ash residue as intense heat would.

It’s also half the price of regular cremation, and it was for pets, one of which lay in a Walmart bag on my back seat.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

What Should We Think About Death?

The British Humanist Association would like to tell us what we should think about death.

The plummy tones of comedian Stephen Fry introduce the concept, but you really can’t enjoy it in its full glory without the cartoon visuals. This link should maximize your viewing experience:

“One thing we can be sure of is that we will die. Everybody will.”

Tell us something we don’t know, Stephen.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Atheists in Foxholes

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

David Rönnegard is 37. He has a PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics, and is a researcher and teacher in corporate social responsibility in Stockholm. But far too soon David’s friends and family will be using “had” and “was” rather than “has” and “is” to describe him.

Dr. Rönnegard has stage four lung cancer.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Ten Things About Death For Which I Am Grateful

I had the inestimable privilege of being asked to preach the gospel at a pair of relatively recent memorial services for Christian friends and family members.

Our regular readers will have probably figured out by now that gospel preaching is not exactly my forte; I am not an evangelist either by gift or disposition. All the same, when you have people you love in the audience who don’t know the Lord, you take every opportunity he hands you, and I took these.

We had a great time. Seems odd to put it that way, but it’s true.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Little Bed Rest

“They rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”

If we are thinking this verse from Isaiah describes the peace of mind that accompanies righteous living, we need to look a little closer at the context. He’s not talking about the proverbial “sleep of the just”. The “rest” Isaiah has in view is of the rather-more-permanent variety.

There are lots of ways to exit this world, but departing quietly in one’s sleep has got to be among the best. There are nobler ways to go, sure, but they tend to come with their share of heart palpitations.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Big Gamble

When I first entered my profession, I was in my mid-twenties. As a brash young man, I remember being irritated by the requirement that I should begin to save for retirement. For one thing, I was young, and young people never think much about being old. I thought I might well even be dead long before my investment came back; I certainly had no assurances I would not. But more importantly, as I was starting out in life, I knew I could make good use of that sizeable portion of my income that was going to be carved out for the retirement plan, and there was no way to get at it.

I would have if I could have.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Anonymous Asks (122)

“When should life support be stopped?”

If you managed to get through those awful presidential debates this year, you will probably remember that on several occasions Joe Biden accused President Trump of all-but-murdering something like 206,000 U.S. citizens, which was the number alleged to have died of COVID-19 complications at that point in time.

Apparently the Democrats thought this was a sound strategy that would resonate with undecided voters, though I very much doubt the average American imagines any president is really capable of doing very much to slow the rate of transmission of a virus once it is out there in the world.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Anonymous Asks (110)

“What should a believer do before he dies?”

Some denominations prescribe rituals to be administered by the church in a man or woman’s final moments on earth, and perhaps this week’s question is coming from someone with that sort of ecclesiastical background.

If religious routines are what the dying are calling for, we would not wish to rob them of their comfort, but I should probably point out that we do not find any commands at all about “last rites” in our Bibles. The Christian is neither obligated to perform them nor to have them performed. It may even be that the practice encourages a false sense of security about one’s relationship to Christ and one’s eternal destiny.

That would be very unfortunate indeed. In any case, it’s not the sort of preparation we are going to discuss today.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Time and Chance (40)

The writer to the Hebrews notes that one of the Lord’s objectives in his incarnation was to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery”.

That slave metaphor is not particularly flattering. And yet we can see a slave’s mentality at work in Ecclesiastes. Solomon, the Preacher, has lived his life making decisions for everyone else around him. He has been the greatest king of his generation; autonomous, powerful, captain of his own destiny. As he considers his own looming demise, he cannot stop obsessing about the various ways in which his own agency is being gradually stripped from him as he ages. This, he says, is “vanity” and “a great evil”. Death is the great leveler of humanity, and the Preacher does not look forward to being leveled.

That preoccupation is a form of slavery, one from which only Christ can free us.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Time and Chance (39)

Boy, there is a lot about death in Ecclesiastes.

If you’re counting, the words “dead” and “die” occur six times apiece, “dust” and “death” three times, “one place” (guess where?) twice, and “Sheol”, “burial” and “stillborn” once each.

To top it all off, the infamous chapter 12 contains such an impressive stack of poetic aging-and-death metaphors that the first thing most Christians do upon finishing the book is scramble to the New Testament post-haste in search of something to wash the taste out of their mouths. I find the last nine verses of Romans 8 usually do nicely.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Crossing the Gulf

“... with patience, bearing with one another in love.”

Easily said, isn’t it?

“Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed.” So said Abraham to the rich man suffering the torments of hades. That chasm is not crossable. “They which would pass from hence to you cannot.”

Speaking naturally, there is also a great gulf fixed between you and me. Not all of you, of course, but certainly some of you. Cross it we must. Our first step is to recognize it is there.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Time and Chance (27)

If we took the first thirteen verses of Ecclesiastes 7 on their own, we might initially think they belong in the book of Proverbs. They are fairly standard Hebrew proverbial couplets (with the occasional interjection).

This is not the first time the form is used in Ecclesiastes. There are a few couplets sprinkled through chapters 1, 4 and 5, and we will encounter more in chapters 8, 10 and 11.

What is different about the proverbs we find in Ecclesiastes in that they do not skip around from subject to subject with anything like their usual apparent randomness, but instead serve the book’s larger treatise. They are thematically linked to one another, to what comes before them, and to what follows them.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Time and Chance (24)

King Saul had a burial.

When he fell in battle with the Philistines, his enemies decapitated him and fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth-Shan, publicly degrading him in death. And yet, as willful, proud and chaotic as Saul’s reign over Israel had been, the courageous men of Jabesh-Gilead came, probably at no small risk to themselves, took his body, burned it, buried the bones and fasted seven days in memory of him.

As in most other nations, an ancient Israelite burial was not merely a matter of being dumped into a hole in the ground and covered by dirt. There were people who cared enough about Saul to make it evident to the entire nation — not to mention its enemies — that their king’s life, position and person were worthy of their loyalty and appreciation. So Saul received a proper interment with the customary ritual observances.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Semi-Random Musings (19)

“[T]he one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death.”

Tough times, when prophets are anointed in blood.

Not literally, of course; let’s not be grotesque. But the Bible’s first mention of Elijah’s successor tells us he would cause death, and he needed no sword to do it.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Time and Chance (13)

What distinguishes man from other mammals?

Charles Darwin famously argued that the difference in mind between mankind and the higher animals is one of degree and not of kind. In other words, we have all the same basic intellectual material to work with. Humans just have more of it.

Indeed, this can seem like a tricky question if you’re asked it in the middle of watching a YouTube video of an elephant enthusiastically playing piano, or a setter and a pigeon who appear to be best pals. Not all this stuff is staged.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Gaming It Out

Nothing makes one explore the implications of one’s own mortality like choosing a beneficiary.*

Don’t get me wrong: the open casket of a close friend or family member always provides a moment or two of bracing clarity, but far too many of us are accustomed to granting the dead their expected tearful due, then moving on as expeditiously as is decently possible.

Sure, we hear the occasional grateful acknowledgement that there but for the grace of God go the rest of us, but most of us are disinclined to let the full implications of that reality really permeate.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

One Wild and Awful Moment

Hidden away in the deep wilderness of Canada’s Algonquin Park is a memorial plaque dedicated to a grandfather and a teenage grandson who lost their lives in a storm on one of the lakes.

How it got there is a mystery to passing canoeists. The location is quite remote.

The plaque itself is of considerable size and weight, apparently being made of bronze. Time has softened the edges of some of the letters and greened the surface; but the plaque has not been moved since it was put there half a century ago. It is solidly drilled into the rock face. Someone went to a lot of work to ensure that their loved ones would not be forgotten.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Atheists in Foxholes

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Heart Behind the Sword

Christians struggle to explain Cain’s wife. Christians struggle to explain Lot’s wife.

Meh. Those two are a comparative walk in the park. You want tough? Try explaining Ezekiel’s wife. No bonus points for falling back on “Well, God is sovereign and there are things about life we can’t really understand.”

Yeah, and the sun is hot and water is wet.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Big Gamble

 The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

John Was Not Surprised

Once in a while the force of an expression gets a little buried in translation. Take this verse, for example:

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

Here are two related statements tied together with the word “so”. First, we are told that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Next, we are told that Jesus deliberately took his time going to see someone he loved who was seriously ill.

The word “so” might seem an odd way to connect these two ideas.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Quote of the Day (32)

The old me needed to die, that was the bottom line.

There was no hope of improving him through education, no chance that a good example might nudge him in the right direction — in fact, everything around him seemed to be pushing him the wrong way entirely. Nobody could reasonable expect that left to his own devices he might eventually turn out to be a decent bloke after all.

But God had something in mind for that guy.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Whistling Past the Graveyard

For any number of reasons I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

I don’t suspect I’m overly morbid, nor is dwelling on the reality of death something I particularly enjoy. Nonetheless, the happy decades in which I attended mostly weddings are diminishing into obscurity in the rear-view mirror and ahead of me looms a rather dismal string of unwished-for funerals — with my own being perhaps the crowning conclusion.

What are we to make of this thing called death that awaits us all? How should we think of it? There are two broad strategies most people embrace.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Love Is All Around

Mary Tyler Moore died last week, and her passing merits a word or two even if no millennial has the slightest clue who she was.

I am the child of Christian parents who went to the mission field in the sixties with me in tow and came back just in time for Abba, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Get Smart and the tail end of the Guess Who’s first incarnation. Pop culture in the seventies blew me away, and it fascinated my mother in her own way, or so it appeared to me. When we finally got a TV, she watched her share of then-current fare, flipping channels whenever the content became inappropriate for family viewing. I watched with her to the extent I was allowed — and sometimes from behind the couch when I wasn’t.

And boy, did I LOVE those early seventies sit-coms.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A House In Order

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’ ” 

Isaiah’s prophetic directions to Hezekiah were pretty specific to his own situation. Most of us do not get a heavenly heads-up before our final exit from this life (although a few of us get sufficient advance warning from circumstances and surgeons to nearly qualify).

Still, all of us would be well served to apply Isaiah’s instructions to our own situations.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hobbits In a Land of Dragons

We are hobbits in a land of dragons.

(Properly, I suppose, we should say, “in the land of THE dragon,” but since Satan has innumerable minions doing his bidding, we would not be out of line to assume they are of similar character.)

It’s impossible to know precisely how much of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth was intended to allegorize the Christian experience, and in the end the answer is unimportant. Tolkien’s faith, like that of any believing writer, informed both the plot of his epic fantasy and his imaginary characters, intentionally or otherwise. At least in part he wrote what he knew, and it seems to me that one of the things he knew best was salt-of-the-earth, slightly out-of-touch, decent, ordinary men and women going about their business without ruffling a lot of feathers.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Recommend-a-blog (21)

Michael Patton is a writer, blogger and president of Credo House Ministries. He is also, as he puts it, “waiting to die”.

This is where our readers usually check out, and I don’t blame you. On this blog, posts that are obviously about death are among our least-read, a fact that doesn’t surprise me at all. I suspect this is true across the board: after all, who wants (naturally, at least) to think about dying? In some ways, even Christians can be as uniformitarian as atheists: we know full well that we are all “waiting to die”, but a world without me in it still seems difficult to imagine.

I’ll see if I can find a great big gravestone picture to make the post’s subject especially obvious.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

One Wild and Awful Moment

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Posing on the Precipice

At age 69, when you put on a bodystocking for a music video, you may be trying to communicate all sorts of things.

You may be saying, “I’m in really good shape for my age”.

You may be taking a political position: “Every age is as valid and important as every other, and therefore the fact that I look ridiculous in this thing should not be noted. I am making a social comment about ageism”.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Big Gamble

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

What Should We Think About Death?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Atheists in Foxholes

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Whistling Past the Graveyard

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

“In case I don’t make it back …”

Heading out to the airport last Saturday, a friend stopped by my desk, put her arms around me and said, “I’d better give you a hug in case I don’t make it back.”

She said it lightly but not frivolously. We’ve both watched a number of people slip into eternity in the last 12 months: her health-conscious forty-something dentist from a sudden stroke; a small businessman I used to say hello to every week unexpectedly diagnosed with a brain tumor; a friend’s mother whose passing was medically predictable but still jarred family and friends; and a fellow employee with some kind of wasting disease that remained undiagnosed until it was too late. There are probably more; those are just the recent ones.

Monday, October 06, 2014

One Wild and Awful Moment

A more current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

I See Dead People

I saw one today, in fact. Propped in a coffin, fully and expertly made up and ready for viewing. She had passed away in her nineties and, while she certainly looked ‘peaceful’, as we say, no amount of makeup could disguise the ravages of nine decades.

And no amount of makeup could conceal that she was dead.

Dead people don’t look like living people. They don’t even look like the wax sculptures in Madame Tussaud’s. In life, there is always motion: the twitch of an eyebrow or the corner of a mouth; the alertness of the gaze, or the finger drumming absently on a tabletop. The person in cardiac arrest in the emergency room is thrumming with life by comparison. Even the most naturally calm person cannot for a second imitate the profound absence of vigor of a body in which the blood has stopped flowing, the synapses have stopped firing and every natural process that maintains life has irrevocably and eternally shut down.

Especially a week after the fact. They just look over, done, kaput. The End.

Except it isn’t.