Thursday, February 26, 2009

Memento Mori

Last Sunday, a friend of mine who had been at theological college with me died. He was 32.

As I reflect on the state of the Church in the UK, I think that one of our fundamental problems is that we forget we are mortal. I don't mean that anyone would deny it - I mean that we are not continually conscious of it in the way that past generations were. We hide from it, and we hide death away where we cannot see it. Christians I know hardly talk about it, even when they are the oldest generation and therefore most likely to be the next to die. We put off thinking about it until the doctors tell us we only have a few months to live, with the result that we only get a few months of life lived in the proper perspective, most of which is spent struggling with the pain of a terminal illness.

But as we see with Jade Goody, life lived in the knowledge of impending death is life that is lived much nearer to the full than at any other time. All of a sudden, she has gone from an object of ridicule to one of the most respected people in Britain, and what she says has gone from the ridiculous to the profound.

The Christian need not fear death, because we trust God. We have living inside us the Jesus who beat death in others, and who triumphed over death in himself. He promises that we have nothing to fear in death.

Moses, realising the reality of his own mortality, wrote these words:

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12, NIV

If we remembered that we were mortal, would we be spending all our time being entertained and seeking to be entertained? Would we be wasting our lives on things that make no difference?

And why should we, who are Christians and have no reason to be afraid of death, be complicit in the world's denial that we are mortal when it is perfectly plain to everyone that we are not? Why should we not be speaking about it and reminding people of the fact that one day we will die, that our lives are not endless and therefore we should not be living as those who have time to kill, but as those who should be redeeming the time from death?


Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your friend. Are there any family or dependents?

I agree wholeheartedly with your points. Especially in the one-third world, it's easy for us to put death out of our minds and live as if we'll never die, because it probably won't be for a good long time yet. I'm sure that's part of the reason that religion doesn't do so well round here - we don't need a God if we're all secure in our own immortality anyway.

As for Christian complicity, I think that rather than living by faith, accepting mortality and trusting Jesus, we buy into the supposedly secure immortality that society sells us and try to live by that. I know that my perspective was sharply re-aligned when I had a close brush with death, but even a few years later I feel myself falling back into the old complicity and apathy.

All this is yet another reason to encourage worldwide mission, so we can feel the whole world's pain and need for Jesus, rather than staying in some British suburb. It's also a reason to encourage living by faith and risk taking for Jesus. Enjoy trying to do that with any future congregations, I'm not sure I envy you in that task!

John said...

No dependents, but he left behind parents and a sister with children.

Since I wrote this post, the father of one of my best friends has drowned in what looks like a tragic accident. Prayers would be much appreciated.