Thursday, January 31, 2013

So, who’s afraid of death?

Can I ask you a question?

If you could know the date of your death, would you want to know?

That’s an interesting question. As I’ve asked people this question over the years, I’ve found the conversations that ensued to be fascinating.

Some of us find the question itself to be distasteful. We don’t even want to think about it. To know would be depressing, and perhaps if it were to be sooner than later, well, that would put a damper on things. Better to live in the bliss of ignorance.

Others of us seem to be intrigued by the thought. To know the exact date of one’s death gives a sort of thrill. We feel a bit more alive knowing the expiry date. Better live while we can and suck all the marrow out of life. “Carpe diem!” Right?

It’s gonna happen. Book it. 

Whether you find the question distasteful or thrilling, one thing is certain: We all have a date with death. One day, your time on this planet will be up, and you will, as they say, assume room temperature.  For most people, the thought is a bit sobering no matter what you believe.

Woody Allen
I remember once hearing Woody Allen quip, “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be around when it happens.” Many of us laugh in agreement nodding our heads.

The reason I remembered this quote is because I came across an interesting article in the NY Times in which Mr. Allen does admit the fact that he is afraid of death.

In typical Woody Allen style of humour, he tells of the strategy he employs to deal with his “constant terror” in the face of his date with death. And it is as telling as it is both fascinating and sad.

Mr. Allen describes his fear as an “obsession with personal vulnerability” that expresses itself not so much in terms of being a hypochondriac as in being an alarmist. Why? Because with every pain or new mark on his skin, he is certain that he has come down with some illness or disease that will prove to be the end of him. He asks,
When I panic over symptoms that require no more than an aspirin or a little calamine lotion, what is it I’m really frightened of? My best guess is dying. I have always had an animal fear of death, a fate I rank second only to having to sit through a rock concert. My wife tries to be consoling about mortality and assures me that death is a natural part of life, and that we all die sooner or later. 
She's right. But Mr. Allen's not comforted.

Undeterred, he does try to console himself, and since humour is the best medicine, he concludes his article with the thought, “…whether you’re a hypochondriac or an alarmist, at this point in time, either is probably better than being a Republican.”

In the end, Mr. Allen knows the clock is tickin’. Tick, tick, tickin’ away.

And then the end will come. Hence, the existential angst.

As an atheist, Mr. Allen believes that death is the end. And since that isn’t a pleasant thought, he lives in “constant terror.” Who knows but that little pain might be the death toll?

And watch out for those germs!

The death of death in the death of Christ

At the heart of Christianity is the proclamation that Jesus himself, as he predicted, conquered death by defeating it in his own death and resurrection.

The original disciples of Jesus who hid in fear for their own lives when their Teacher was crucified were in a matter of days transformed into fearless witnesses claiming to have seen the resurrected Jesus. And they gave their lives to seal their testimony.

Men who hid in fear of death suddenly were fearless in the face of it. Why?

Because in rising from the dead, Jesus made the definitive statement that death doesn’t have the last word. As the writer of the book of Hebrews said, through death Jesus can “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Those who once were enslaved in “constant terror” can now be liberated.

Jesus’ resurrection was the firstfruits of the resurrection to come (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). What Jews expected to happen at the end of history (the resurrection of the dead) actually happened in the middle of history in the resurrection of Jesus. Here is our definitive proof of the death of death.

And now, the follower of Christ can say with the Apostle Paul,

“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

And that’s the cash value of the Good News about Jesus. Death, though our enemy, is a defeated enemy. And yes, death still sucks. It is ugly vandalism on the face of God’s canvas of creation.

But Jesus gets the last word.

And he makes everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). One day, when he returns to set the world to right,

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I lam making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:4-5)

Jesus offers you freedom from the fear of death. You don’t have to live in constant terror.

You can even know the (approximate) date.

And yes, there’s an app for that.

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