Death

The big one. The unavoidable outcome for us all, whether next week, next year or in the next hour. Not the cheeriest of subjects but the common thread linking all human beings alive now. Growing up, I heard my parents and other adults refer to people who had died as having ‘passed on’, or even ‘gone home’, like they had simply shifted into another state of being. It was never really presented as a horror, or a final end for the person who had died. The real tragedy, it seemed to me, was the often protracted suffering that came first, through illness or injury. Only unexpected or sudden death was seen as a bad thing, because the deceased and their family would not have been prepared for it. As I grew up and began to mix with more secular friends and their families I noticed they didn’t speak of it in the same way. There was, for them, no heavenly hereafter, no Jim Reeves (look him up) singing ‘I’ll fly away’ in the funeral home, nothing. Anger, bitterness and sorrow. Now THAT was scary.
It may seem a bit bleak, but like most things when it comes to God, death is actually good news. Jesus came to teach people about God, demonstrating what it was like to live in direct communion with God, in the intimacy of a father-child relationship. He also came to die in order to make this kind of relationship possible for all of us. And his resurrection proves that God is not defeated by death, and the life he gives is not destroyed by it. Jesus saw his own death as not only inevitable, an interesting idea for one who claimed to be God, but necessary. In John’s gospel, he likened it to the role of death and life in nature, saying that unless a seed dies, it cannot reproduce. (Jn 12:24)
No Christian should be afraid of death, because it will unite us with God forever. But there is a different kind of death which I can and still avoid, and which also will bring me closer to God in the here and now. It is a death to self, to my own wishes and preferences and ambitions and desires which not only tie me onto the treadmill of our times, but also force me into behaviours and attitudes that stop me from growing to maturity. I’m not aiming to have no preferences or ambitions or desires, but simply to make them secondary to what God wants me to do. And it is hard, this kind of death, of course it is. To do the right thing. To not hold grudges, to be forgiving, again, to keep my temper when I have the perfect cutting comment lined up, to put others first, to keep on track. And my selfism tells me to look after number one, do what I want. But dying to self is not about trying to live some perfect life. It’s about letting God live in me by starving to death my own unhelpful desires or traits, even if they seem like good ones. Like the desire for universal approval or popularity. Or to always help when asked. Dying to self, I have discovered, is as much about understanding my own limits as it is curbing any pious ambitions. So in dying to self I get to step off the hamster wheel and walk at God’s pace.