PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Mankind has it again…the unyielding despair of death!”
By: Ron Woodrum
Several years ago, a young medical student graduated and moved to a small town to begin his practice. He so wanted to be a success in helping people with their multi-faceted maladies. He had dedicated his life to this very cause. An old man was his very first patient. The young doctor wanted so to make a very good first impression. The old man listed all of his ailments and waited for the Dr. to give him his diagnosis. After a long examination the young doctor had no clue what was wrong with his patient. The doctor asked him, “have you ever had this before?” The old man replied, “yes many times!” The doctor said, “well…it looks like you have it again!” When the world tries to figure out what in the world is wrong with mankind…we have to come to the conclusion that we definitely have the malady again. Every person…every generation…we all have the same disease that brings about the same result…death. God warned man to avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God warned the first couple do not eat of that tree…for the day you eat thereof…”in dying you shall die!” (the Hebrew is quite expressive-“you will die that moment spiritually…a process of dying physically will set in, and if not cured the end result will be eternal death!”). Redemption in Jesus Christ is the only answer to this malady. But keep in mind that the devil denied that sin would bring forth death. He told Eve, “You shall not surely die!” But every since that first eventful encounter-as the Book of Romans tells us “death has reigned over mankind“.
Man has written much about this enemy that has us in its grip. “April is the cruelest month” begins the first line of T.S. Eliot’s poem Wasteland. His poem is thought to be a portrayal of universal despair, where we lie in wait between the unrelenting force of spring and the dead of coming constant contrast of winter! In the bold display of life’s unending circles, one can only be left to wonder at the point of it all! Does everything simply fade into a Wasteland of Death? Is death the last desperate word? Perhaps this is the very thing that Isaiah had in mind when he protested...”In the prime of life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years? For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise. The living, the living —they praise you as I am doing today” (Isaiah 38:18-19b). Though to a differing degree and conclusions much of our literature is unapologetically full of a sense of deep irony expressed at times in the fullness of futility. Euripides, a writer in the fifth century B.C., expressed this futility to his generation.
He wrote, ” and so we are sick for life, and cling
On earth to this nameless thing.
For other life is a fountain sealed
And the deeps below us are unrevealed
And we drift on legends forever”
(Euripides, Hippolytus, Lines 195-199)
Shakespeare, with the lips of McBeth writes…
“tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
creeps in this petty pace from day to day.
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death; Out, out brief candle!
Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And is heard from no more. It is a tale,
Told by an Idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing!” (McBeth. Act 5. Scene 5, 19-28).
The philosopher Nietzsche called mankind “species of the dead…a very rare species”. Bertrand Russell said that mankind has no choice to “build their lives on the firm foundation of unyielding despair”. Referring to the fact that death hangs over our heads like a sword of Damocles. The world has no hope to offer us. Atheists tell us that we evolved from death, lifeless matter, we experience life briefly, then we return to the nothingness of death! in other words, life is an unnecessary chance interruption in the midst of cosmic death. No wonder atheist Albert Camus maintained that in light of that kind of meaningless of life the only serious philosophical question is whether or not to commit suicide! That has caused comedians to make light of this human dilemma. Woody Allen said, “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens!” George Burns said, “If you live to be 100, you have got it made. Very few people die past that age!” (He lived to be 100 and did just that…”he died!”). Steven Wright said, “I intend to live forever…so far so good!” But though these comments make us laugh…they really are no comfort for our dilemma! Even Oscar Wilde wrote the book the Picture of Dorian Gray, the story of a man who sells his soul for ceaseless youth. Old man wrinkle cannot touch him. Everyone marvels at his eternal youthfulness. But his beauty hides a soul marked with greed, lust and betrayal. A painting of him shows the condition of his inner life. Initially the face in the painting is as handsome as he is in real life. But his sin begins to be reflected on the canvas. Every act of deceit, betrayal, and greed becomes another wrinkle or pockmark or twisted feature until at last the face in the painting is too hideous to bear. He hides it in the attic. And in the end, when death comes for him, the painting is who he becomes!
In the movie Shadowlands, it is shown that one of the reasons why Joy Davidman fell in love with Lewis is because of his theology of heaven and also his beautiful depictions of how Christ was an answer to man’s dilemma of sin and death. He not only taught it in his theology, but illustrated it in his Chronicles of Narnia. In his book the Silver Chair King Caspian lay under a clear stream. (Dead). The children weep. Even Aslan weeps. Aslan tells Eustace to get a thorn and push it into his paw. As a result, a drop of blood falls into the stream and King Caspian leaps up, no longer old, but a young man. He rushes to Aslan…and flung his arms as far around him as far as they would reach. He gives Aslan kisses as a King, and Aslan gives him kisses from a Lion. Eustace says, (concerning Caspian), “hasn’t he…died?” “Yes”, says Aslan. “He has died. Most people have you know. Even I have. There are very few who haven’t!” Lewis was trying to get us to focus on the eternal dimension of the present. Many more people have died, and due to the blood of Christ, they have entered into eternal life. Many more people have died and now live than are present on the earth currently. Knowing that should change our perspective. In the Last Battle, the final chapter is ‘Farewell to the Shadowlands”. Aslan tells the children what has happened to them. He tells them that there has been an accident. He then tells them the truth…”Your father and mother and all of you are-as you used to call it in the Shadowlands-dead! The term is over. The holidays have begun. The dream is ended. This is the morning…the things that begin to happen to them after that are so great and beautiful that I cannot write them…we can most truly say they lived happily ever after. For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world, and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before!” In other words, the Christian view is that we were created to live, death is a temporary interruption in this life, only to be followed by eternal life that can never be taken away- for it is the gift of life from the Christ of Calvary. Fyodor Dostoyevsky saw this when he said, “One day man’s wisdom will not come out of books, but from the presence of the Living God, and our Earth will glow brighter than the sun, and there will be no more sadness!” The devil moved us into the realm of death…and shouted “checkmate”. But our King had one more move…and shouted “Life…Eternal…for all who Know Me! I am the LORD OF LIFE AND DEATH”.