why death and life?

We aren’t good at talking about death – and yet we desperately need to do just that.

avoiding death

As a society we aren’t good at talking about death, and as individuals we may try and avoid thinking about it. This is made easier for us by the fact that the process of death has been largely handed over to professionals, so we rarely witness it, and many of us can go through life without ever having seen the body of a person who has died. In many ways it is reasonable for us to try and keep our distance from death, for it is a deeply threatening reality:
  • It is fundamentally uncontrollable and unpredictable
  • It involves (unknown and possibly extreme) degrees of physical pain and discomfort
  • It separates loved-ones
  • It is undergone alone
  • It interrupts our plans and projects, and may make life seem pointless
  • It seems to annihilate those who undergo it

Yet we cannot deal with threat by avoiding it forever, and society is beginning to wake up to this fact: ‘bucket lists’ have entered the national vocabulary, death cafés are fairly commonplace, and organisations such as the National Council for Palliative Care, Compassion in Dying and the Dying Matters Coalition have brought the topic of death and the process of dying out of the shadows and into the public arena. It turns out that many people, especially older people, would value an opportunity to talk frankly about what is sometimes known as ‘the last taboo’.

role of the churches

What role might the churches have here? The chair of the finance committee of the Archbishops’ Council remarked that the churches face a numberical decline because ‘we haven’t found a way to halt death’. Perhaps he was being ironic for, of course, the certainty of the resurrection is what gives us our identity as Christians, and the message that we proclaim and try to live out is one of life in the midst of death and hope in the midst of loss. For “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). We have something significant to say about all this.

But often it can be hard to communicate traditional Christian teaching on this vital topic in ways that make sense to twenty-first century folk, even if they are regular churchgoers. The central truth of our faith seems to be the one that is hardest to communicate. We need to learn how to have proper conversations about this.

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