Sunday 6 September 2015

The ultimate goodness of death and the temptation of mortal-immortality

Death is something nearly everyone fears and dreads - and yet it is for our benefit.

I infer that this means that there is, for each of us, a 'time-to-die' - and our challenge (everybody's challenge) is to recognize and accept this time-to-die, when it comes it us or to someone we love.

In a deep sense we are born to die - that is, dying is the primary task of our life and the one task which everybody will accomplish.

We die so that we may be resurrected and move to a higher and more divine state; so if we were not to die we would fail to reach this higher state: and that would be the greatest tragedy and suffering.

To want not to die, to yearn for immortality in this life, is thus a sin - it is a profound rejection of God's plan.

Luke 7: 28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

This means that the least person who dies and is resurrected to salvation will be greater than the greatest Man that had lived until the time of Jesus - greater than Abraham, Moses, David or John the Baptist... than any. I extrapolate this also to suggest that the same applies to even the greatest Saints who have lived since Christ - in reference to their greatness while yet mortal Men (although not in reference to their ultimate stature in Heaven).

So it represents a really colossal error to want never to die, to crave immortality in your current incarnation - or even to want to extend life beyond the proper time-to-die. Because it can be done, and it does happen, and not infrequently - people can and do live beyond the proper time-to-die - and that is why the temptation is real.


Leo said...

The current generation in the West has isolated itself from death while not ending it. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, particularly since the world wars of the first half of the last century, which brought so much early death and suffering.

In 1600 about a third of children died before age 9. It would have been common to have lost a young sibling. Maternal death rates in 1600 may have been 1%. It would not have been uncommon for a child to have lost a mother. Infectious diseases could suddenly sweep through a community with 25% or higher mortality. Any serious accident could lead to a fatal infection. In Victorian times death date for children under five in Manchester was 60%, and in laboring class London life expectancy was then just 22. Prior to 1900 infant mortality (death before age one) was 20-30%.

It is good that death does not so commonly strike the young as it once did, but we now have the illusion of immortality when reality is still otherwise. The very old are now often isolated and out of sight as well. We as a society have thus lost the concepts of holy living and holy dying.

John Fitzgerald said...

Tolkien was alive to this as well. He calls death the 'gift of Iluvatar' and it was the great folly of the Numenoreans to go chasing after an endless span of life that led to their becoming prey for Sauron and ultimately to the Divine chastisement that established their ruin.

Imnobody said...

What you say makes a lot of sense. However, are you sure that "kingdom of God" means "heaven" in this verse? Most commentaries on the Internet interpret it as meaning "Church", as in other verses of the Gospel.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Imn - Presumably it depends on how 'church' is defined - if someone takes it to mean church, then clearly it doesn't mean the bureaucratic organization but the mystical church. Without being over precise, I think it clear that Jesus implies something like those who accept him as what he claims, and repent, and are saved; but the starkness of the contrast between the past and the future is the core of the communication. The phrase communicate the good news, the magnitude of the gift Jesus brought.

Imnobody said...

Agreed. Of course, it is clear that it is not about the bureaucratic organization. Our time, when most churches are corrupt and leftist, makes this extremely clear.