Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 47. The Resurrection, part 2: Death
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 47. The Resurrection, part 2: Death

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

The death of the body is biologically inevitable. However, the way we experience death is cultural. That is, how we envision and prepare for death reflects cultural beliefs. Ernest Becker has argued that fear of death profoundly shapes cultures (see essay 25). I think this is particularly true today, because death is becoming one of the only remaining great mysteries. Science can now adequately explain most aspects of the world around us, including the biological bases of our own existence. But, science cannot describe what it is like being dead. It appears that all science can do is to assert that, since experience as we know it requires a functioning brain, there is no experience at all after the brain’s demise.

This explanation, however, does not altar how we experience the mystery of death. Perhaps death is mysterious to us because our minds cannot comprehend non-existence or non-experience; perhaps death is mysterious because we have such difficulty understanding the nature of our unique identities (often called the “self” or the “soul”).

A cursory look at popular culture reveals that our culture is fascinated by death. Death takes center stage in many songs, books, movies, and news reports, and many books about “the afterlife” sell well. The reason that we generally don’t recognize this as bizarre or pathological is that we are so immersed in a culture obsessed with death.

Does Jesus’ resurrection mean that everyone will enjoy an everlasting existence of their same personality in a benign, pleasurable, distant place called “heaven”? This theory is problematic for several reasons, and I will articulate two of them. First, as Jesus made clear in his discussion about the woman who married seven brothers, “life” after death will likely be far different from what we currently experience. Perhaps even the core aspect of existence, the “I” that we feel as unique individuals is radically altered.

Second, change makes life interesting. How many conversations get started with “What’s new?” If we existed forever in time and space, with no possibility of death or decay, it would be either terribly boring or such a fundamentally different kind of existence that we can’t start to understand it in terms of our everyday existence.

Rather than speculating on something about which our science and everyday experience teaches us nothing, I suggest that we focus on what the resurrection story teaches us. We learn that there is something much more important than our brief terrestrial existence. We learn than our struggles on earth are a small part of God’s plan, and through Jesus Christ we get a glimpse of this plan.

Rev. Paul Nuechterlein has noted that the Gospel always relates to human needs; it never provides truth in a vacuum. He has written, “If it is true that God’s truth is aimed at a particular human need, and if the focal point of that truth is the cross, then what does the cross say about particular human need? … If the lifeline God throws us is the cross and resurrection, then doesn’t that say we are drowning in our own violence?” We will explore this further next week.

Go on to: Part 48. The Resurrection, part 3: Breaking Free of Our Culture of Death
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