Given a sufficiently long timeline, everyone experiences death. Death comes to family members and friends; eventually it comes to us. It’s one of those things that’s never easy and certainly never comfortable.
I believe that lives well-lived generally lead to deaths well-died. Even if the well-lived life ends early, suddenly, or tragically the legacy of the well-lived life transcends whatever means by which death comes.
Death is an assassin and its aim is both true and accurate. Last week, death delivered a direct hit to our flanks when it claimed our Aunt, Patricia Washington, just before her 65th birthday. Indeed, the first of her two services took place on her birthday.
Before I get really misty here, let me say I’m not writing to eulogize her. Her life was so effing awesome that she needed neither eulogy nor the obligatory two-minute monologues offered to the bereaved during the service. She was loved by many and she loved many. She was a teacher of children and a dedicated student of the bible.
My point in this post is to illustrate some of the ignorance that surfaces when these things happen. Let me say, for the record, this is not an indictment of any individual, and certainly not of my family. This is so pervasive in so many families and cultures as to be almost cliché.
That said, in my estimation, there are three types of ignorance:
- “Ignorance of Ignorance,” or when you simply don’t know. Many times we humans simply have zero understanding of a subject but out of improperly focused empathy, we aim to say something comforting but it comes out confused.
- “Ignorance of Omission,” or when you respond improperly because you were taught incorrectly. In religious circles, these are the folks that rise to the level of their teaching. There is a lot of bad teaching out there and because of the “thought mass” accumulated over centuries, entire cultures are sucked into the gravitational pull of this form of ignorance
- “Ignorance of Commission,” or when you actually know better but choose to kick the can of ignorance further down the road; that is, to knowingly and willingly promote, proffer, and promulgate ignorance because said ignorance is profitable for the manipulation and control of people.
I want to deal with some common platitudes though these lenses.
First and foremost, it is not “God’s will” that anyone dies. Folks that fall into the first two categories often say this as a means of comforting the bereaved. Unfortunately, this turns the God who is supposed to be all knowing into some sort of sadistic monster. It also nullifies the biblical premise that God is no respecter of persons; if He saves the life of one, He must, likewise save the lives of others. The folks in the third category, on the other hand, say that a person’s demise is “God’s will” because it gives them a control lever to pull on the bereaved survivors — if you don’t get it together, you could be next.
Another thing frequently heard at the point of death is that “God needed another flower in His garden.” Again, in the case of the camp of the first two, there is no harm intended, they simply don’t know there is no biblical basis for this statement. In the case of the third, improper exegesis and a bad hermeneutic reduces God to a heartless horticulturalist who doesn’t give a rip about the feelings of those left behind.
Still another is “God needed another angel” or “God gave them their wings” If you look at this from the standpoint of the Greek root for angel (angelos), you could have a point — as this means “messenger.” But once a person dies, there is no more message for them to deliver — at least in the earth realm. And they’re certainly not “angelic beings” in the strictest religious sense. The folks in the first two camps simply don’t know these things either because they were never exposed to such teaching or were taught improperly. Our friends in the third camp know better but try to keep folks in the fold by giving them false comfort.
Another one of my “favorites” (and by “favorites,” I mean I really detest it) is “God gave them their healing.” To be clear, once you transition from the natural to the spiritual, I believe sickness and pain go away. However healing is healing and death is death. I’ve seen people healed of a myriad of diseases. When Jesus raised folks from the dead, he didn’t say that it was God’s will they were sick and he never equated death with healing. How anyone can conflate the two is beyond me but when you ask the folks from the first two camps, you’ll find that either they have zero bible knowledge or that they heard someone else say it. When I hear someone from “the clergy” or an ‘armchair-bible-scholar” parrot this foolishness, I perceive nothing but religious bondage.
And of course, the “Mack Daddy” of them all, “It was just their time” or “God’s timing is not our timing.” This one really chaps my hide because it reduces God to an indifferent puppet master and reduces us to nothing more than his playthings. Listen, if God is a fatalist, we’re all screwed. If He “knows the end from the beginning,” he knows who is going to be “saved” and who’s going to be lost but it’s all a game of chance to us. I actually heard a clergy person tell the parents of a deceased child that “God knew they weren’t going to get saved, so He took them before they crossed the threshold of ‘the age of accountability’” Let me help you out with something, folks: there is no set time. Each of us is given free will and our choices dictate our outcomes. For the folks who make their abode in the first two camps, there is no biblical support for this premise. As for the third, y’all know better — stop it.
God is a Good Father, not “The Godfather.” He’s not storing up wrath for our bad behavior and He’s not standing over us with a scythe or a cosmic stopwatch, waiting to “call our number.” God gives us life in abundance and we honor him by living this life somewhere in the balance between reckless abandon and careful consideration.
As for me, I hope to live a life at least half as awesome as my Auntie — you should too! If I am (and you are) successful, you won’t need a eulogy or any kind words from anyone because you will have both written it and heard it while you’re on this side of eternity.