Theology of Death
The theology of death has to be separated from the politics of death.
Ministers are experts on death. They have to face it constantly. Not only ministering to the dying and the family, but creating the funeral summation of the act.
Most of the funerals I have been to lately have been pretty flat affairs. The passion does not come from the clergy, but the eulogy. It seems the family has to make their grief meaningful. Is that what a funeral is all about? Those left behind, not the departed. The memory, and the reassurance that it is a good thing for the soul in the end.
Soul separation. Dividing the soul from the body, the life. We think that our minds and our consciousnesses are one until the division of death. But what we take with us is not the knowledge but the wisdom of this life. That’s what really counts. That’s what God is looking at. What has the prodigal child learned in his or her time away?
Modern society has done a great job masking death. My ancestors in the early 1800’s in England rarely made it to the age of forty. When the first immigrated to Canada, hard as it was, he lived to 78.
Today death is hidden in the hospitals, the abbatoirs, on TV and the old age homes. Grandma doesn’t spend years languishing on the verge of death in the spare room. We don’t see dad cutting off the chicken’s head in the back yard for Sunday supper. Few kids die in childhood.
We are a life-focused, life-positive culture. We can control death far better than any other culture in history. We have stopped worshipping it like warrior kings used to. Our relationship with death has really atrophied. Increasingly the un-Churched are honest enough not to have funerals, just a wake with the ashes in the room.
Re-connecting the Church with the post-modern world has to involve confronting the issue of death. There is a chasm between what the Church represents about death and how secular society feels about it. The Church has had to do an end-run around its historical emphasis on death. Even hell-fire preachers can’t sermonize the way they want to. People hate the negativity, the threat, and will just go to a more positive church. It would cause a drop in customers, and the churn in parishoners is one of the big concerns in the fundamentalist churches in the U.S. How do you keep people in your church, let alone coming back.
From a missional point-of-view, death seems like a dead issue. People just aren’t that interested. Underneath, death is a sacrifice of our lives to God. We are no longer a sacrificial culture.
So how do you connect with a youth that has no sense of spirit? The fantastic is merely thought of as a computer-generated graphic. A product of the imagination. The mystery of death does not come into the picture. Let alone what it entails. What you see is who you are.
Christianity is founded on the death of Christ. If no one is interested in death, how do you sell the message of life? We control pain and death quite fine by ourselves. It does not nag us. So the modern Church competes on the secular turf of promoting life. Too often it is interpreted as the management of life by those who may listen. The most successful churches in the U.S. are those who infuse emotion, passion, enthusiasm, liveliness into their services. Rock-and-roll was condemned by those preachers’ fathers. Today the rock band has replaced the choir.
Its hard enough to get people to focus long enough on questions about life. They are too busy living it. How do you create a language of death when the old one has been lost? When death occurs, it is one of the real senses of ‘community’ that the buzzword entails. The hearts broken together and see each other for a moment in the mutual recognition.
Perhaps that is why fundamentalists loved the orgy of violence against Jesus in Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion of the Christ.’ It said everything they feel, but are not allowed to say in our pain-allergic society. It could only be said through the language that we most often experience death, the movie screen.
Its a real opportunity. Spirit is so low in modern society at the same time death is. How do you talk about one’s soul when it is so hard to define, even in traditionals mileus. What is the soul, as opposed to everything else? Isn’t mind and consciousness the same thing? Isn’t this life just an incubator for the soul? The ‘Care of the Soul’ book series was a big hit with its sensuality in experiencing life.
Secular society has forced the Church to separate from its death roots to survive. Without the compass of death, how do you distinguish the soul from the life? The problem is ignored, primarily because even the Church does not recognize the distinction between the two. The life and the soul are one. The body can separate us from God if we don’t cultivate the wisdom of the heart. The mechanics of how the soul gets into the body is unknown. Its thought that it is formed at the point of conception. The miracle of life. We have to distill it from the effects of life events to truly know its presence, to be aware of it.
If people are committed Christians, then they will enter into a dialogue with death through Christ. We are here to know death. That was Adam’s choice. But death is a fearful thing. One of the many suspenses that God creates for us. We have to come to terms with it. Who are we if we are just in transition? What does the future hold when time ceases and eternity beckons? We have to focus on the ‘petite mal,’ the small deaths that the traumas of life inflict on all of us. To be born again is to experience a death first. All the lies in your life start to die, and you suffer until you are ‘cleaned out’ and can become the real ‘you’ that God made. That takes a lot of courage, to put faith and trust in God when all you see and feel is pain and destruction when you life has been that bad. Courage and the heart. The soul speaks. What does it recognize? It can’t be sugar-coated. Too much seed lands in the thorns and on the rocks from charletans.
That is the community of heart that the Church seeks. Community, the Church, feeling our souls at the same time sensing the Holy Spirit. Oneness, through the broken heart. The truth through the death that Adam chose.
Death becomes courage. The soul is the heart. Courage comes from the heart, despite what the mind is screaming about its own security. The muscle, the pump, the drum beat of the heart. Singing and dancing around the campfire before the battle in the morning between one’s heart and one’s mind. What common sense does one follow? Facing death, fighting at the peak of life at death’s door. The warrior imagery that is so out of fashion. Yet that was what Jesus went through at the Garden of Gethsemene. A little closer to Christ. God looks at you and says ‘do you see me? Does death frighten you? I am death as well as life. If you ignore death, you ignore Me.’ God takes courage in the face of one’s own death, particularly in the peak of life.
We are a safe, secure, peaceful society. We are allergic to pain and death. We have not known famine or mass death since the Great Depression and World War II. The memory fades. Survival is guarenteed. Few know what true deprivation is. What wisdom is in that?
Pain, death and life. Nothing is whole. We deconstruct and analyze everything so that we can control any situation. We really need to think about how nothing is whole in our analytical society. Death left out leaves a gap in our wholeness. It is just a ‘part’ of life. Yet wholeness is reached through the heart, the courage of the heart, through death and rebirth. It is experiential. A discovery of Self. With anti-death as our society’s modus operendi, how can non-linear, post-modern humans ever take the disparate parts of their conceptual lives and piece them together into a whole? It is the foundation of the Jesus experience.