DEATH casts a shadow over us as we go about our daily life, no matter how physically fit or rich we may be. It can strike the next time we cross a street or lie in bed. Such disasters as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C., bring us face-to-face with the fact that “the last enemy,” death, gathers its victims from all walks of life and from all age groups, sometimes taking thousands in a matter of minutes.—1 Corinthians 15:26.
Even so, death seems to fascinate people. Nothing would appear to sell more newspapers or draw more people to the television screen than reports of death, particularly death of large numbers of people in horrifying circumstances. People cannot seem to get enough of it, whether it is death by war, natural disaster, crime, or disease. This fixation with death finds its most puzzling expression in the raw emotions that greet the death of public figures and celebrities.
All of this is undeniable. People remain fascinated by death—the death of others. When faced with their own death, however, they flinch. Our own demise is the one subject that most of us cannot bear to contemplate.
The thought of our own death is always distasteful and it always will be. Why is that? It is because God has infused us with the keen desire to live forever. “He has also put eternity in their hearts,” says Ecclesiastes 3:11, according to the Anchor Bible. The inevitability of death, therefore, has created an internal conflict in humans, a persisting disharmony. To reconcile this internal conflict and to satisfy the natural yearning to live on, humans have fabricated all sorts of beliefs, from the doctrine of the immortality of the soul to the belief in reincarnation.
At any rate, death is a troubling, frightening event, and the fear of death is universal. We should not, therefore, be surprised that human society in general finds death a challenging prospect. For one thing, death exposes the ultimate futility of a life devoted to the pursuit of wealth and power.
Alienated by Death?
In times past, a terminally ill or fatally wounded person was usually allowed to die in the familiar and beloved surroundings of his own home. That was often the case in Bible times, and it is still true in some cultures. (Genesis 49:1, 2, 33) In such cases, the family comes together, and the children are included in the conversation. This gives each family member the feeling that he or she is not grieving alone and provides the comfort of shared responsibility and shared mourning.
This is in great contrast with what takes place in a society in which discussion of death is taboo, regarded as morbid, and in which children are excluded on the assumption that it would be “too much” for them. Dying nowadays is different in many ways, and it often is more lonely. Although most would like to die at home, peacefully and lovingly tended by family, for many the hard reality is that they die in a hospital, usually isolated and in pain, tethered to a frightening array of high-tech equipment. On the other hand, millions just die anonymously—the faceless victims of genocide, famine, AIDS, civil war, or just abject poverty.
The Bible does not discourage the contemplation of death. In fact, Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells us: “Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house, because that is the end of all mankind.” When faced with the reality of death, we may turn from our routine concerns or activities and focus on the brevity of life. This can help us to live our life in a more meaningful way rather than simply to muddle through or waste it.
What is your view of death? Have you examined your feelings, beliefs, hopes, and fears about the end of your life?
As is the nature of life, the nature of death is outside the realm of man’s ability to explain and comprehend. The only one who can speak on the matter with reliable authority is our Creator. With him is “the source of life,” and to him “belong the ways out from death.” (Psalm 36:9; 68:20) Surprising as it may seem, an examination of some popular beliefs about death in the light of God’s Word will prove both comforting and refreshing. It will reveal that death is not necessarily the end of everything.