I have been reflecting on death today. Not because of any sort of morbid introspection, but because of two specific things I came across. That got me to thinking, why do atheists fear death? They don’t believe there is an eternal punishment, or anything at all. My theory is that atheists fear death, because for the vast majority of us… the universe will utterly forget that we existed as soon as the last memory of us fades.
Here are the two things that I came across that got me thinking about this.
- Ann B. Davis, made famous primarily for her work as Alice on the Brady Bunch, passed away earlier this week. She had a rather accomplished body of work, but I was surprised to see my Facebook absolutely blow up with comments about how much we’ll miss her, how great she was, and what a tragedy this was.
- I was out exploring a cemetery today, and came across a toppled grave marker. It was mostly intact, and simply looks to have fallen off its base.
Now, I don’t want to belittle Davis. As I said, she had an accomplished career, by all accounts was a delightful person, and actually served for a very long time at an Episcopalian ministry training school.
That being said… I don’t really care that she died. At least not directly. Her death doesn’t impact me in any real way. If you walked up to me and said “Ann B. Davis died today” I wouldn’t have had a clue who you were talking about. In fact, I’d bet that most of the people who posted the aforementioned messages wouldn’t either if it wasn’t followed by “Alice from the Brady Bunch” or a picture.
Davis did not marry, she did not have children, and in all likelihood will fade into the oblivion of obscurity within the next few years.
I didn’t stop to check the name on the toppled tombstone. While it is possible that this happened this morning, and a loving and doting family member will be along later today and will remedy the problem… the likelihood is that this grave marker has been laying on the ground for quite some time. And it will likely lay like that for quite some time more.
This fade to obscurity is part of death’s sting. We all long to be known and remembered. We long for our thoughts to be rethought, for our families to tell fond stories at reunions. However, for most of us… this will not happen. Our families may tell stories of us for a few years. Some of them may fondly remember us on our birthday’s, or the anniversary of our death. However, the stark reality is that this too shall come to an end. I could not tell you anything more than the name of my paternal great-grandfather. I could not tell you what he looks like or a single detail about his life. My children will probably know even less.
Sound bleak? It is.
But not for Christians. Not for us. Not for God’s people.
But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:3, ESV)
Even when my tombstone has fallen to the ground, and is ground to dust by the elements… God will still know me. Even when everything I have ever written is lost to the decay of time and new ways of thinking. God will still know me. Even when all that remains of me is a distant trace of my genetic lineage. God will still know me.
What’s more, there will come a day where I will be raised to new life and will eternally live in the presence of my eldest brother, Christ. Who, through union with him, gave me the right to be called (and to genuinely be) a son of God.
For those of us who are God’s people, there is no sting in death. Death is conquered, and though we must all succumb to its grasp temporarily, Christ has released us from its permanent embrace.
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55, ESV