Our little puppy, Cu, a blue merle Australian shepherd, suffers from an overbite. There’s nothing we can do about it, so we just accept it. The vet told Susie, concerning the malady, “It is what it is.” We can live with it.
Such should also be people’s attitude toward death. At least, that’s the impression I received reading a review in Nature (29 November 2012) of two London exhibits of all things death-and-the-grave. The two exhibits assemble collections of art, written work, videos, and more, offering a tour de force of death and the various ways people think about it.
The report, by Ewen Callaway, neither condones nor condemns the macabre exhibits. His opinion seems to be, death is what it is, and since “We’re all going to die” (he quotes collector Richard Harris), we may as well just face up to it and get used to it.
But we don’t really ever get used to the idea of dying, do we? Let the most reliable voices of the scientific community assure us that death is no big deal – “It’s a universal subject” (Harris) – and that we can perhaps even learn to appreciate the artistry of death, still, it does not eliminate the fear of death that stalks all those who have no hope beyond the grave (Heb. 2:15).
Death, it seems to me, is not a proper subject for an artistic exhibit. Death is a tragedy. Death, even though it is what it is, is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s not what God intends, even though it may be all that science can hold out for us and the cosmos (recall Robert Jastrow’s popular history of the universe, Until the Sun Dies).
Death may be what it is, but it isn’t the end: “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This is an article of faith, it’s true. But so is the scientific view of death which says it is what it is and it’s all that is.
The scientific view of death is a form of whistling through the graveyard. The Christian view offers hope beyond the grave, a celebration of eternal life in glory, not endless death in a museum or a mausoleum or a cold, impersonal, ever-expanding cosmos.
Christmas celebrates the beginning of that eternal life in the life of Him Who was born among us from on high, even our Lord Jesus Christ. His resurrection from the dead opens the way beyond the grave to life as God intends.
Once doesn’t have to be a scientist to understand the simplicity of the Gospel. Being a scientist, in fact, might actually hinder that ability. But it needn’t be so. Death is what it is, it’s true. But so is Christ, born in a manger, crucified and buried, risen and reigning, and coming again in glory.
In a world where death haunts the soul of every person, Christians must breathe the Good News of life into the tomb-like atmosphere or our secular age.