Friday, March 9, 2012

Death Sanitized Is Still Death...

Russ Saltzman, Lutheran Pastor and writer, has written in First Things about the dying of his father.  It is painful story of a life left with but a bare resemblance to the once vigorous and strong life he knew in his father.  Saltzman is writing about the imagined "good death" of those trained to deal with life at its end.  While he is certainly grateful for the care given to his father, he is not at all enamored of the "nonsense" of accepting death as a natural part of life.  Good for him.

In his own words:  This is hardly in keeping with the “good death” of the hospice component of the death awareness movement: Every death becomes a good death with a final, fulfilling opportunity for personal growth, ultimate maturation, a developing readiness to move on to an affirming and meaningful experience. But I am pretty much of the opinion that death means personal annihilation. Psalm 30 certainly suggests it. 
What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit?
Will the dust praise you?  Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
If you have to ask, don’t you already know the answer? And if it wasn’t personal annihilation, it was Sheol that awaited the dead, which in my mind is about the same as dying and moving to west Texas.

Either way, the only remedy is resurrection. I believe it will be God’s final word through Christ, a voice loud enough to crack graves open and sharp enough to command the dead to rise.

Meanwhile, I tend my father.

Those who read this blog know what I think of funerals that have become celebrations of life and of death that is deemed natural or grief a coming to terms with the naturalness of death.  There is no good death.  There is death which sometimes appears merciful because of the tortured nature of life but it is only a mask.  We don't need masks to deal with death.  We need a Savior, we need a life which death cannot overcome, and we need the Word that calls the dead to rise again.  Amen to that.  Death cannot and should not be softened.  The resurrection is not some consolation prize.  It is the one and only answer to the searing questions of Psalm 30.  Don't console by attempting to mask death behind some kind of fake goodness.  Expose it for what it is -- in all its ugliness, pain, and sorrow.  But do not leave us there.  Point us to the final word.  Speak to us the Word that has triumphed over death to steal away its victory and hold for us the promise of something greater -- the resurrection!


Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Congratulations on being once again 'blog of the week' at IssuesEtc. for this post.

My mother recently died suffering the terrible losses dementia wreaks on a person. Watching her gradually forget everything except the fact that she had forgotten everything was wrenching.

The only 'good' in death is it's blessedness in God's sight fo His children. I frequently told those who offered condolences that my mom now has her memory back. Not so much that tired phrase, "She's in a better place." Instead, she is, for now, in the presence of Christ.

Death is not a walk or leap into darkness for the believer. It is putting out the lamp lit by our Savior in the promise that He is the risen Light of heaven. We as His children must see Christianity as being about death (Rod Rosenblad's words), not life in this fallen world. Surely we see through a smeared glass, but it is dark in this room, and we look forward to the light of the eternal day.

Sorry for waxing wordy, but this is an excellent post about a very vexing problem today.

BS in Texas said...

Great article. One thing - I believe the word in your title is actually spelled "sanitized".

Oh, and West Texas is really a nice part of the state. Windy, dusty, hot, cold, wide open and beautiful in its own right.

Take care.

Pastor Peters said...

No, I sometimes lapse into British spelling... but I corrected it for the Yanks who read my blog... *{:-)