The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
– 1 Corinthians 15:26
I have been fascinated by Halloween and the supposed culture of death and destruction. Part of my fascination has been because of my Independent Fundamental Baptist background. I always viewed Halloween from an outsider perspective, and from seeing Halloween as a culture holiday of nearly total participation of Western culture. I do not intend to look at the merits of Halloween, the usage of Halloween by Christians, or even the history of Halloween, but instead I want to look at something that it emphasizes and what it tells us about Western culture. I want to look at how we, in the West, look at Death.
I am currently living in Japan, and I have noticed how they approached and viewed death. They typically avoid speaking about death because death does not come as an end. As a primarily Shinto/Buddhist country, death is seen as a place where your ancestors continue in the afterlife and are never totally away from you. They are not gone, but in a different plane of existence. This is why they take such good care of their elderly and view them so highly. This view of death not as an end but as a continuation of life is completely different from how the West views death.
This has made me ever the more curious about how Americans have viewed death. In the West, death is an end, and it is terrifying because it is the end. Because of this the West has pushed death to the outskirts of society. Specifically, Americans are completely shocked anytime there is a death that it makes national news. Deaths are typically curated and taken care of the in the back of clean, white hospitals, not on the street, not in homes, and not where people see it happen.
This fear of death fascinates me because our culture in all other aspects seems to glorify death and gore (see TV shows like the Walking Dead and video games like Gears of War). I believe, that these views of death, seeing it as cheap, and easily come about for entertainment purposes, is because it is become so removed from American culture. We do not see death as something that is difficult or costs much, but as something that done quickly, easily and then move on.
I am not a psychologist, but I am curious, if this has anything to do with the PTSD epidemic in Western militaries, suicide among young people, abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and the rise of mass shootings in the United States. We have so washed and cleaned up death, because of our cultural fear of it, that it is causing us to destroy ourselves.
How should we as Christians respond to the American view of death? Big picture answer, we need to confront it with the gospel. We need to preach the Gospel to all those who have bought the lies about how death is viewed in the West. According to the Gospel, we (as baptized believers) have already died with Christ (Col 3:3). We no longer need to fear death for Christ is putting it under his subjugation and has already defeated it. We have hope in death (1 Thess 4:13-14) for in Christ we shall never die (John 11:25-26). Death for the believer is but a “light momentary affliction” (2 Cor 4:17-18, ESV) and because of all of this “we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8, ESV). Much more could be said about the victory of Christ over death, but we need to look at how to address death in American culture.
- We need to remove ourselves from viewing death as Americans do. Instead, we need to view death in light of how Christ and scripture down, post-justification. We need to make sure that we are addressing things of the world, as believers of Christ, not as a westerner. This will involve spending a lot of time in scripture understanding exactly how scripture views death.
- We need to talk to people openly and frankly about death. We need to ask people how they view death and why they view death the way they do. This will better help us better share the gospel with them, when we know what aspect of death is most troubling for them.
- We need to put ourselves in situations that would be usually uncomfortable for us. We need to move out of our comfort zones and address death head on. For example, this be when a friend’s relative dies, and we want to just say, “I’m sorry,” but instead, we need to address this head one, find out how they are doing, and how they are approaching the death of their loved ones.
What other responses to our culture’s view of death can you think of?