I shouldn’t be surprised at how adverse we evangelicals are to thinking about death, but I have to admit that I am. Here are five major reasons I think evangelicals don’t like confronting it in an honest manner:
For one, we love to spiritualize everything, so that we’re more comfortable and confident in a world we can’t see than the one we live in at present. We put more thought, more energy and more “action” into the spiritual than we do the present. And nothing underscores the over spiritualization of everything like death. In fact, we act as though it doesn’t exist all together. We act as though death is fake … a mere false reality because we know the soul lives on. Since we see it as fake, it’s not wonder we’re willing to offer up rather cheap explanations.
Second, heaven too easily acts as a trump card for anything related to suffering, death and doubt. We’re so quick to use clichés like, “You can rest your mind because he’s in a better place.” Or, “Don’t worry about her; she’s in the arms of Jesus.” The implication being … why the hell are you sad when you know “so and so” is in heaven?” And while this relates to the first reason of spiritualization, it’s slightly different because not only do we see death as a fake out, but we use heaven as a cop out. Jesus sees death as an enemy and we … we like to think it’s a mirage.
Thirdly, we like to act the way we imagine God. We imagine him as impassible, immovable and immutable; and so when it comes to death, we’re too often emotionless, untouched and we act like we’re unchanged. I wonder how we’d change if we imagined a God who wept? I wonder how we’d approach death if we could believe that Jesus wept?
Fourthly, evangelicalism is a Western phenomena. That’s not bad. We just have to realize that it’s situated in a Western context and has been molded by Western questions. And because death is the great pin to the hot air filled balloon of the West’s view of man, we hate it. Boy, do we hate it. It IS the reminder of our finitude. The reality check that tells us we’re not as able as we’d like to think. And part of me thinks evangelicals, in being influenced by the Western modern paradigm, have looked past death for the same reason.
Probably the biggest reason we’re not honest with death is because we like to think its God’s will. That “God makes no accidents”; that “it all happens for a reason” and that “we’ll understand in the end.” As a funeral director who’s seen his fair amount of death related crap, I honestly don’t know how people swallow this pill and still manage to have faith in God. So, let me get this right: this awful death that just occurred, you believe that God caused? And, not only do you believe God caused it, but you think he did it for good?
I do understand that such a line of thinking helps alleviate grief as it finds some reason amidst the confusion. And I do understand that sometimes, in order for people to make it through, they’d rather have a bad explanation than no explanation, but this is the ultimate reason we’re dishonest about death: we too often think it’s God will and we somehow think he meant it for good.