Celebrities and a Theology of Death

cemetaryThis has been a crazy week for me. It’s been a death week.

On Monday I addressed a room of Navy leaders about the role of the Chaplain in Casualty Notification, when a Service Member dies and the Command sends a team to notify the surviving family.

On Tuesday Doris Roberts died.

On Wednesday Chyna died.

On Thursday Prince died.

I always find it a bit odd when the world goes bananas over celebrity death. They’re only celebrities. It’s not as though they are immortal. Of course they’re going to die. And I’m not trying to make light of people’s feelings. There is a genuine sense of loss and grief some people feel when a celebrity passes. I think this is because, while we don’t know celebrities personally, we feel as though we know them because we follow their careers and lives. Many of them impact us through their art, whether it be music, television, film, or any other media. When someone has a profound influence on me, of course I will take his death harder than a total stranger.

Nonetheless, death has been part of the human equation for a long time now. We all deal with it in different ways. Some address it with humor:

  • We die only once, and for such a long time. ~ Moliere
  • I intend to live forever, or die trying. ~ Groucho Marx
  • I am not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens. ~ Woody Allen

Some address this in all seriousness:

  • Death is like an arrow that is already in flight, and your life lasts only until it reaches you. ~ Georg Hermes

How, then, ought we to face death? I’ve seen some people use celebrity deaths to berate the lack of faith in the living:

“The death was tragic but is even more tragic if they don’t know Jesus!”

Sure, this may be true, but it usually isn’t the best time and place to be talking about it. It lacks tact and grace. A better route would be to help people develop a theology of death BEFORE an event (as opposed to DURING). The Bible DOES talk quite a bit about death.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. ~ Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

All of humanity is mortal, and no one will escape it. Though we like to watch movies about immortal beings (living through the 80s and 90s meant I was a huge fan of The Highlander franchise), the reality is that death comes to us all. This doesn’t surprise us. What surprises us is when we’re not expecting the death. It’s easier to wrap our minds around the passing of a loved one who has spent time ill under hospice care than it is to comprehend a very sudden and unexpected death of someone regularly in the limelight.

But even though death comes for us all, the Bible points CLEARLY to the idea that death does not have the final say. The entire biblical narrative moves us in the direction of understanding that death is a natural part of our broken world but is defeated by Christ.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. ~ Romans 5:12-15

Paul writes that the final enemy of humanity to be defeated is death. And Death is not the winner. Christ is the winner. Death is not the end of things. It is the beginning of the next thing. This is why the Apostle Paul can declare with complete assurance, “Where, O Death, is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55).

But our theology of death cannot end here. It’s not merely about understanding that it’s going to hit us all and that Jesus has the final say. A real theology of death ought to affect the here and now. Paul writes:

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. ~ Romans 6:8-13

Knowing that Jesus conquered sin and death means we have a call in the here and now daily to put our sinful self to death. He died to sin for us and now we’re called to LIVE life for Him. His death is a clarion call for us to be fully engaged in the godly life now.

None of this is to negate the sorrow and loss people feel. We still work through those emotions. But a proper understanding of death will do us good not only in terms of grief and recovery, but in terms of living this life to the fullest now. And to those who grieve, I’ll leave you with the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero:

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

If you’d like to do some more study on living and dying well, check out The Art of Dying by Rob Moll.

Shut Up, I’m Trying to Grieve

mourning-804579_1280Today I had the job of trying to minister to a woman who was grieving the death of a colleague. It has long been a personal pet peeve of mine that Christians don’t do a very good job of consoling those who grieve. Unfortunately, we’d rather offer platitudes and cheap words than deal honestly with death and grief.

I’m always reminded of Job’s friends. After Job’s astounding loss of family, livelihood, and personal health, his friends came to comfort him. They put on the signs of grieving (they cried, tore their clothes, and put ashes on their heads). Then they shut up and sat with him. For a whole week they sat beside him, mourning with him, but didn’t speak.

Today we’re so afraid of grief that we say ridiculous (and sometimes theologically stupid) things. We say these things for a couple reasons. Sometimes we genuinely feel bad and want to comfort the one who grieves, so we use our words to TRY to make them feel better. Other times we OURSELVES are uncomfortable with someone’s grief, so we try to lighten the atmosphere for our own sake.

But the honest truth is that words do little to ease the hurt when we suffer loss, when we grieve the death of a friend. Words and sayings do little to dull the pain. So I’ve stopped trying to say things in a cheap attempt to make it hurt less. I say we should embrace the pain.

The Faith Will Survive

I’m reminded of King David’s famous 23rd Psalm where he writes:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me….

Notice that David never talks about God miraculously making things better. God doesn’t remove David from the valley of the shadow of death. David simply takes comfort and strength knowing that, even IN THE MIDST of the chaos, God walks alongside him.

Jesus told his disciples:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

We will go through chaos and turbulence. We will know suffering and pain and loss. God never promises to keep us from it. But we know that, through it all, God walks beside us every step of the way.


If you liked this article, you might also want to see “A Christian Response to Death.” Please consider sharing the article on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or any other tech you use.

The Dress was Headline News and My Friend Died

So yesterday was something else.The Dress

It seems a huge amount of people were vehemently arguing over whether this dress was blue and black or white and gold.

It made headline news and drew scientific explanations as to why people were seeing different colors.

Oh, yeah – and my friend Bill died.

There’s no other way to describe him than to say he was grand. I met him when I moved to town almost four years ago. He was one of the most senior seniors in the church – a Veteran of World War II. His time in the Army was an immediate bond with this Army Reserve Chaplain and, even though he had been out for decades, the military never got out of him. He would salute me every time he saw me in uniform. He was incredibly active with our local chapter of the VFW honor guard, which meant he and I did several funerals together in uniform. One Memorial Day he was tasked with dropping a wreath in the local lake during the Memorial Day Celebration in honor of the fallen. He was a man of deep patriotism. Bill Nash

Bill was an avid carver and whittler. He was always working on projects and had who knows how many little pieces stashed away. He delighted in giving away various whittled creations. Over the years my family received several whittled Christmas Tree ornaments. He also made me a wall hanging of the cross and a cut-wood version of The Last Supper that I kept above my office door.

Though he didn’t play, Bill was an avid supporter of the church softball team. If the weather permitted and he knew about the game, he was always there. He brought bubblegum for the whole team – the Bazooka Joe gum that you can only chew for 90 seconds before it gets hard and you risk chipping a tooth.

Bill had hearing aids that had to be cranked up for him to hear, but he was faithfully in worship every week. Every once in a while Bill would comment about the volume but it wasn’t a complaint – just a comment. Drums and guitars didn’t seem to bother him. I remember one Sunday I preached a little longer than usual. That usually irks some people. As I was saying goodbye to people at the door, Bill came through the line. I apologized for running a little late and he said, “Sorry?! Why are you sorry?!” (most everything Bill said was sort of half-yelled, probably because of his hearing loss) I said, “Well, I know some people get upset about running late.”

Bill’s response: “So what?! Say what you gotta say!”

He was always encouraging and helpful – doing whatever he could to support every ministry of the church (yes, even the kids ministry!). My wife just talked with him a few days ago, and now he’s gone. My heart is heavy and the world is a worse place losing men like Bill.

But please, let’s keep going on and on arguing about a dress.

There are things in life that matter and things that really couldn’t be less important. People matter. Eternity matters. I’m reminded of the simple prayer that Jesus taught his disciples:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)

We worship God.
We embrace His kingdom and His will.
We ask for His sustenance and provision.
We pursue reconciliation with others and with God.
We seek His continued help and deliverance.

That’s it! That’s the only prayer Jesus taught, but it shows us where our focus should be.

There is an eternal perspective that we are missing when we get caught up in ridiculous stories and arguments about colors of dresses. I don’t think Bill would have care one whit about the color of a dress. I KNOW Jesus wouldn’t have cared. Jesus had that long-range perspective – a focus on what really mattered.

The death of friends and family usually makes us take stock of our own lives. What matters? Who matters?

The Dress doesn’t matter to me. I can’t even bring myself to read through an entire article about it. Bill mattered.

Today my prayer is that we can shake ourselves free from the inane things that plague our every day and begin to live lives that matter.

Christians Don’t Do a Good Job of Consoling Others…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We do a HORRIBLE job of consoling people who are grieving and hurting. It doesn’t really matter what the loss is about – we suck at consoling.

When a loved one passes away how many people say, “I’m sorry for your loss”?

Why? Didja kill him?

Or consider how we treat couples who have lost a child…. God did not “take the baby because He wanted him in heaven.” That is not only stupid and hurtful – it is bad theology.

The next time you have an opportunity to talk to someone suffering through a loss, think about what you say and the significance of your words.

Think before you speak – if you even speak at all.

Remember, it’s not about making yourself feel better in the situation – it’s about bringing comfort and compassion to the one hurting.

A Christian Response to Death

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Death – it’s the opposite of life. It destroys what God has created and is thus contrary to God’s ultimate desire and design. But in this broken world it’s a reality we all face.

I once took an informal poll on Facebook – I asked people what came to mind when they thought about dying. I received quite a variety of answers:

–          Does our spirit immediately go to heaven?
–          No more sickness and no pain!
–          Is it going to hurt…?
–          Jesus…and playing like a crazy person on a grand piano on the other side of the Golden gates. lol. I mean Pearly gates.
–          My Mother whom suffered for months, my Twin Sister who passed away with cancer – if you’re prayed up, packed up and ready to go then it is the final healing, no more suffering, pain, or sickness.
–          When I think of death and dying I envision two different ends of the spectrum. On one end is the person/s left behind which can be a very emotional experience. On the other end is the person who has died. In that I see calmness, blessing and a peaceful beginning with our Jesus…King of Kings.
–          I can’t wait! – Not for the trauma of the death of this old body, but for who is waiting for me in heaven. I can’t wait to see Jesus!!!!!
–          I know it sounds overplayed and we lose sight of the real impact and meaning of it but we get to see and be with The Lord Jesus Christ forever!!! If creation is intricate but still flawed as it is any indication of what is to come our minds our going to be blown!!! Wow! God forever!!!
–          Meeting my daughter in her Glorified body…..and knowing I MADE IT! LOL!!!!
–          I think how much I love my family and how I never want any of them to die, but neither do I want them to suffer. At the very least, should any of them go, I know where it is they go, with whom they’ll be, and that the family left behind will be civil toward each other.
–          Sweet release! The next phase of life.

Our responses to death cover a wide range of philosophy, religion, stuff we’ve read in Dante’s works, and myriad other places. Let’s take a little time and look at what the Bible says about death, dying, and some other related aspects of death.

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. (Mark 14:32-39)

It is a normal human response to have an aversion to death. Even Jesus, when faced with death, prayed repeatedly that God would alter the path before him so that he could avoid the cross. In our own humanity it’s okay to dislike death. The Bible doesn’t tell us to “have a stiff upper lip” when it comes to our mortality. Like Jesus, we might find ourselves praying, “God, please change this course. I don’t want to walk this road.”

I once read that we fear death more intensely than other things because it is the only area of life that is uncontrollable and unknown. It’s something that comes to us all. Sometimes we know it’s coming. Sometimes it takes us by surprise. That not knowing can mess with us, can instill us with fear, can paralyze us. But fear is not a result of trusting in God. Fear is a result of our own attempts to control life. Jesus showed aversion to death – he didn’t show fear. In the end he surrendered his will to the Father because he knew that there was something more – something greater – in store.

Living here and now in light of tomorrow is the hallmark of Christian death. We might have an aversion and avoid it as we can, but embracing the idea that death finds us all compels the Christian to action in the here and now. The Apostle Paul talks about the death of Christ being a catalyst for a new way of living life:

For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. (Romans 6:7-12)

Life here needs to be lived in light of Jesus’ death and in light of the life that awaits us on the other side. To echo Maximus from Gladiator: What we do now echoes in eternity!

Because there is more to come. There is a world that awaits us when we cross from this life to the next. Grave sites originally called coemeteria (cemeteries), literally “resting places” – because people knew that dust was not the end – the spirit lives on. Thus, while Christians mourn our own loss at the passing of a loved one, we can celebrate death because we know of what awaits. Before A.D. 700 the funeral dress was white, not black. They were joyous occasions. Look at the words of Jesus:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”( John 14:1-4 ~ 14)

And the words of the Apostle Paul:

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”( 1 Corinthians 15:51-55)

This world is not the end. Christians used to say, “This world is not my home, I’m simply passin’ through.” There is more to life than this flesh and blood. And one day the pain, the suffering, and the sorrows that we face will cease.

As long as I have breath I know that God has a plan and purpose for me, but I won’t fear the day when I leave this world behind. All I know is I’m not home yet. This is not where I belong.

Give me Jesus.

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