Pastoral Care, Chapter 8: Death is a Reality, Not a Threat – Part 2

I read a story recently which dramatized this for me. It came from the diary of a man who had had an experience and was writing about his feeling concerning it. He had gone into a field to pick a bouquet of lilacs to take to someone he loved. When he walked into the field and bent over to pick the lilacs, however, he saw the half, decomposed body of a human being. He jumped back with horror and shock. I am sure any one of us would have done the same.

While I do not care for you to keep the image in your mind and to wonder what you might have done, I would like to ask you a question, “Why is that that should shock us?” If the man had gone into the field and had looked down and seen a lilac bush which had died and was in the process of decay, he would thought nothing of it. Had the man gone there and seen a dead frog, or an ant, or a bird, or some other living thing, he might not have liked what he saw, but he would have simply stepped away from it and picked lilacs somewhere else. It would not have been a shock, and it would not have been horrible. Why, then, is it so when it is a human being? I do not believe it is only because we treasure human life above all other life. It is because, in our mind, there is something inconsistent about finding a dead human body. There is something contradictory about finding a human being who is dead and decomposing in the midst of things which are beautiful in God’s world.

The Bible does not see it that way. The Bible deals with death as a reality. It is a reality in the creative order of things in which things living, also die. Especially in the New Testament, the role of faith, then, is not to help us evade the fact, to avoid it, or to mask it over. It is rather to free us to accept the reality of death, to face up to it: so that when it happens, we are not victimized by it but can experience a feeling of victory even in the midst of it. The first step in facing up to death, then, is to be honest about it as a reality. It is not something uniquely happening only to you at an inopportune time.

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