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Insights into What Comes Next

I’ve written before about my 4-year-old grandson, Leo. Many grandfathers would say this about their grandchildren, of course, but I think he’s exceptionally smart. He asks a lot of smart questions, for one thing.

Currently, he’s been asking about, and referring to, death. And why not? Death is scary and many kids are into scary things, though they may not fathom what it means to die. For many adults, it’s the worst thing that can happen to a human being, something to be feared above all fearful things. For others, it’s a relief. For most, I think, it’s an enigma, at best.

People of faith may ask themselves, “Did God really know what he was doing when he created us to die? Couldn’t he, or she, come up with a way of creating that doesn’t include death? Say what you want about a God who loves us. Death seems like a cruel joke.

Insights from the Gospels

But if we seek God in the Christian tradition, we examine the gospels, and if we’re paying attention, we get insights that make death palatable, if not understandable.

We simply don’t know why death is part of the lives of humans, and of all living things. It’s among the many unknowns with which we all must live. But my longtime friend, Ted Wolgamot, a retired psychologist who also has a master’s degree in religion, has some interesting insights in a recent essay on the subject.

Christian teaching has traditionally explained Jesus’ own violent death as a reparation for the sins of humanity and that Jesus is “dying for us,” but not, writes Ted, “in the sense of ‘in place of’ but “in solidarity with” us.

In other words, writes Ted, Jesus didn’t die on a cross to appease an angry God and “make up” for the world’s sin, like so many of us were taught.

All About Solidarity

“Our better understanding of Scripture now helps us to see that what Jesus was doing was showing us with utter clarity that we are so passionately loved by God that he wanted to identify totally with us in our places of deepest pain and sorrow. Good Friday is all about solidarity, not appeasement.

“It’s about Jesus dying with us, more than for us … about a God who accompanies us, especially in our darkest, most tragic moments.”

I had forgotten to think about it in that way, but it makes death less calamitous to know that God has also died, and in a most terrifying way. And it brings to mind one of the greatest challenges to faith, at least for me: To believe that God so loved us that he/she was willing to allow his/her son to die, and to die in that way.

It’s mind-blowing, really, but it’s a continuing teaching of Christian Bibles and of most Christian denominations.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal live,” Jesus says in a dialogue with a Pharisee named Nicodemus in John’s gospel. And there are many references in the New Testament about the joy that awaits us in the afterlife.

Fear of Death

Ok, so getting past that issue (as if it were resolved) returns us to the question of fear of death, which I believe most humans – including most Christians – experience.

I believe the two are related. If it’s true that God “so loved the world” – in other words, us – why would he allow us to drift into nothingness, as many believe happens, at the end of our lives? Personally, as an aging person, I’m more afraid of what leads to death than to death itself. God pretty much has death covered; it seems.

But I’m more and more aware (mostly through Centering Prayer) that God is always, and everywhere, present, and that God will be with me in whatever leads up to death as well as at the time of death itself.

Says Psalm 116: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his holy ones.”

Makes sense to strive to be among them. 

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