It seems as though death is all around me at the moment. I have moved recently to a country coastal town, and met a local woman whose five year old daughter died last year from cancer. A couple of weeks ago I learned that a former work colleague lost her partner to asbestos related cancer. Another former colleague lost her new born baby that same day. Yet another colleague from that same team found out two days later that her father had died suddenly and unexpectedly from a stroke. And then we hear of the catestrophic events in Haiti. Death too great to comprehend. It almost seems as though it is closing in, like a sea mist that chills and pervades everything in its path.
Hearing about the tragic losses of others invariably leads to pondering one’s own mortality, and the lives of loved ones. As a parent, I sometimes wonder about my children, will something happen. It could be very easy to become paranoid about death, to imagine it around every corner. I think that most people experience anxiety about death. We are programmed for life. Everything within us screams out for survival. Yet we have this fear that something is going to get us. Death is part of life, and we will all die at some point or another. The fear is more about something happening before we are ready. Arguably, we are never ready to face our own mortality. Perhaps I reflect on this as one only can when one has not faced down the barrel of a terminal illness.
Death is always sad, but is somewhat more palatable when it comes in due time, at the end of life fully lived. The emphasis of the loss is shared with the celebration of the life that preceded it. But it is hard to understand the life that is snatched away early – like the newborn child I referred to earlier. Or the five year old girl. Or any one of the thousands that perished in the Haitian earthquake. The mother of the five year old girl feels that it was her child’s destiny to die young. And that it was also her own destiny to experience losing her child, part of her own personal growth. The kind of growth I could do without I think!
Thinking about death invariably leads me to God. At the moment I am not wrestling with why God lets people die, or fails to stop death- whichever way you look at it. The thoughts for this post came to me while driving to work, and I found myself wondering how God himself experiences death. If we take a literal reading of the creation story, death was never intended to be part of human life. Death is a consequence of our separation from God, part of “the curse”. I wonder if God grieved the entrance of death into his creation. We read that God communed with first man and first woman. How did God experience relinquishing that communion? There was death of both relationship and the body itself. I also wonder, (and here I may venture into theologically dangerous territory), why bodily death was the consequence of disobedience. Was that a natural consequence? It seems like “all or nothing” thinking. And maybe, that is exactly how it is. There is no half-walking with God, partial obedience can never substitute full trusting obedience.
I also wonder about the death of Jesus. How did God experience the death of his son? Of course, this question and those that follow presuppose a particular trinitarian perspective. Did God fight the urge to stop the events leading up to and including the death of Jesus? Did he feel paternal? Or was it something accepted as a painful fait du complete. Does the term “paternal” have any place in the relationship between Father and Son? We sing about the fact that Jesus could have called “ten thousand angels” but did not. We don’t sing about the Father torn asunder by the desire to spare his Son and to save his creation.
One of the things I love about Jewish traditions and writings is that nothing is too small to be examined. I love the way Jewish writers enter the story and entice the reader to likewise look at familiar stories with the wide eyed wonder of a child seeing for the first time. There is permission to wonder, even if it leads to less trodden paths, or paths that don’t lead anywhere. I find it refreshing.
I am concluding with a disclaimer. This post is an attempt to capture my rambling headspace at the moment. It is not meant to be well thought out theology, my own personal treatise. It may not even express my final or future opinions. It is just an intellectual meander down a path that probably leads to a dead end.