Ben Simpson, bringing the heat against my chapter on death:
Is death an enemy, an evidence of a horrendous evil still operative in our world? Has death been defeated, or does it wait for a final defeat? Resurrection awaits us, yes, but we still must die if our end comes before Christ’s return, and if this is so, what is our posture toward death when it comes?
This is the tension, and it is a tension that I believe needs further nuance and greater care. When we say that the body is mortal, we concede we live with this reality in view, and we must ascribe to this reality a reason for its presence. Death is coming, for the world we have been born into is not as it should be. The enemy, death, remains, though that enemy has been defeated, so that when death comes, it can be received not with despair, but with triumph. Triumph comes by way of Christ and his resurrection, who is the first fruits of the resurrection to come. Though Mr. Anderson asserts the reality of a future hope, asserting strongly a belief in the resurrection, he needs to develop an eschatological line of reasoning, one that develops death as consequence of sin, Christ as victorious over death in the cross, the resurrection as an evidence of future hope, and that future hope as determinative for how we can live without fear of death in the present. Ultimate hope shapes present outlook, including my view of the body and how I am to live while I remain within it. Paul’s remaining in the flesh, I believe, was shaped by just this kind of conviction, as was his posture toward death. Death would come, whenever the Lord so appointed. Until that day came, however, he could joyfully proclaim what he knew to be true concerning Jesus.
I’m curious to hear from you if you’ve read it. What make you of his critique?
I haven’t grappled with death or experienced it close up yet, even at middle-age, and despite that grandparents have all died (I was largely shielded from the experience by my folks).
But some thoughts: Ben points up something that has been developing in our minds (mine and my wife’s) RE cremation. Despite the provision in the [RC] Catechism allowing for cremation (the controversy in the Middle Ages having been largely resolved in our current era), it has been a growing concern in our minds, similar to Ben’s, that our actions, even in death, are evangelical: if we hint at disparaging the body, given and caringly created by the Creator, then do we communicate something to others about life, the body, and the Creator Himself (Evangelium Vitae)? We don’t yet have this resolved, and find ourselves seeking further catechesis and formation of mind and heart from the Church.
The other thing that occurs is: it would be helpful to hear from those who have been near to death, experienced it in dear friends or family, up close, and in the context of faith-filled lives. No pun here, but putting flesh on the bones of theory and conjecture and theologizing would be very helpful. Certainly the lives of the saints can be helpful; but I’m interested in what can be shared experientially. Do those heading toward death experience peace, solace, contentment, etc. or fear, dread, anger, etc., or a multitude of those comingled? How does their Faith inform, intersect, or develop during the process; alternatively, how does the process itself shape Faith—what occurs in the mind and heart? What can they teach us? We learned vastly from John Paul the Great—-his life and dying were catechetical. I think I would grow from experiencing that closer to home.
Lastly, and coincidentally, yesterday a colleague mentioned that, after this past year which had been exceedingly difficult for him, and had included several deaths very close to him (one anticipated, one not), he thought of death as a possible comfort, an opportunity to rest. These were not suicidal thoughts—that was not on his mind. But the idea that death would allow him to avoid the exhaustion and agonies of what he’d experienced this last year brought a sense of hope or relief to his weary mind. Since he and I are close (and tease each other, so context was appropriate), what immediately came to mind was Purgatory (1 Cor 3: 14-15). As an Evangelical, he was shocked and visibly shaken to even consider that his formation into Christ-likeness would not be complete at death. And that demands another question, and perhaps another dimension, to the question of death itself:
If life here is the proving grounds, and we endeavor to conform our minds and hearts to Christ, yet leave this world unfinished (as we all do), and knowing that within the presence of God only purity of the purest kind can dwell, should we anticipate death as an *opportunity* to be refined, and in that respect, approach it as we approach the Faith: with fear and trembling?