Death: The Last Enemy of God

I found the poem Conscientious Objector”  by Edna St. Vincent Millay to be very insightful and moving.  It touches upon the topic that all of us will experience, albeit only once in our lifetime, namely, death.   Death has been called “the great equalizer” since it treats all people the same – it recognizes no class, age, gender or racial distinction.  It is the common experience of all humanity, and so ties us all together in its life-ending insatiable swallowing down humankind.   Millay says it is possible to be a Conscientious Objector in death’s war on humanity – we each can die, but never hand over anyone –friend or enemy – to death.

Conscientious Objector

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.

I hear him leading his horse out of the stall; I hear the
clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the
Balkans, many calls to make this morning.

But I will not hold the bridle while he cinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself: I will not give him a leg up.
Though he flick my shoulders with his whip, I will not
tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am
not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of
my enemies either.
Though he promise me much, I will not map him the
route to any man’s door.

Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver
men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe
with me; never through me shall you be overcome.

Millay’s poem made me think about death as portrayed in and understood by the Bible.  On the one hand God warned Adam that should he disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, that Adam would surely die.  On the other hand, God commanded that humans should not kill (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17), that murderers should be punished by death (Genesis 9:6), and that God Himself had no desire to see anyone, including sinners die (Ezekiel 18:32, 33:11). 

Can I live as Millay suggests, as a Conscientious Objector to death?  Can I live so that I never betray anyone – friend or enemy – to death, rather always seeing death as the true enemy of humanity? 

Whatever role death might have played in dealing with rebellious and sinful humanity, St. Paul does categorize death as an enemy, not a tool of God:

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”   (1 Corinthians 15:26)

That death is neither God’s friend, nor invention is made clear in the Septuagint  which was canonical Jewish thinking at the time of St. Paul:  

“Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring on destruction by the works of your hands; because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal. But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.” [Wisdom of Solomon 1:12-16 (NRSV)]

Death is summoned when humans sin, but does not belong to the Will of God for humanity.  God’s will is always geared toward humanity’s eternal salvation.

So, can I live so committed to a pro-life attitude that I never betray any fellow human being to death?  Would not that be respecting the sanctity of human life?

Next: Some Scriptural Thoughts on Death (A)

4 thoughts on “Death: The Last Enemy of God

  1. Pingback: Some Scriptural Thoughts on Death (A) | Fr. Ted's Blog

  2. Troon

    This morning I again watched the shiny new (often bright red) cars of the abortionists and abortion staff go into Planned Parenthood followed by the often dusty old cars of frightened, unhappy young couples, single young women, pairs of young women, or hardened faces of tight-lipped slightly older women etc. driving in for their scheduled abortions. The saddest are the cars with crosses, Rosaries, prayer ropes hanging from their rearview mirrors. I an Orthodox and was there with Roman Catholic John and later Linda. We know when the young moms are coming for their abortions, so we are there as members of Catholic Pro-Life to pray with our waves to the folks and signs saying “Pregnant? Scared? Need Help? FREE HELP for you, 972-BABY DUE”. “Mercy after abortion: Project Rachael” with #. I am always bemused by those staffers angry with our sign, visibly angry with the option we present for life and “free help.” Why would the “pro-choice” be angry that we simply offer that “other” choice if they are committed to the freedom and best choice for each person? Simple greed? Denial which forces them to “hate” the opposite? They must already have turned reality upside down in their minds, so now there is only the choice for death. What ensues is distress, fear and hardness, emotional/spiritual death for the mothers, the families, the practitioners as well as the physical death for the babies whose lives are being ended while we are on the sidewalk. So contrary to what God wishes for all the people in the cars, not to mention the babes in the womb. Delusion, selfishness, ignorance, convenience, greed, ignorance, anger, shame, deception at work trying to spoil God’s gift of life and disfigure the image of God in each person in the process.

    On the other end of life, I have seen older folks euthanized gradually or suddenly, doctor’s advising in an anti-life way and hospice* misused to that end, again due to some mixture of greed, delusion, selfishness, ignorance, convenience, deception, anger, shame. One physician will advise one patient with Parkinson’s and new swallowing problems to simply “let it go”, leading to choking episodes, aspiration, preventable pneumonia, a protracted death accompanied by low energy, low immunity, multiple infections (preventable) due to gradual dehydration and starvation. That physician may not mention a PEG tube at all to the patient or family or may maximize the risks. Another physician will recommend a simple PEG-tube at the right time and many months/years of good hydration and nutrition and health ensue. What a difference the world view of the physician makes and the financial status of the patient. Rose Kennedy gets a PEG tube as a simple remedy to restore nutritional balance. (True for most). A woman on Medicare who is poor and content is denied one because it is a serious procedure with many risks (Not true for most. Which is it? Why such different descriptions? World view, finances, etc. How dreadful to realize that a patient’s trust in physicians as healers and supporters of life may or may not be at all appropriate.

    As Met Hilarion said on his visit here, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches as well as some Protestant Churches officially support life from conception to natural death and we rejoice in the life given us by God our Creator and should be allies in advocating for it. Christ trampled down death by death but it was an enemy He and only He overcomes. May God keep us from participating in death in any way. Thank you Fr Ted for this word, especially on a morning when I have again just been in that corridor of Death. I continue to hope some day that Eastern Orthodox will stand there at the Cross of so many with them, present with them as icons of Christ, offering these beleagured, confused souls love, hope, healing, support. For now I have my Vladika’s permission to say the Rosary with the Catholic Pro-Life group there since there is no Orthodox priest there and no other Orthodox lay person who yets “goes out”. I am hoping Met. Jonah someday will encourage his priests, deacons and at a minimum his people to be where it happens, when it happens, to show support for the frightened women who might come to their senses if they see loving people there, or at least be there supporting the babes on their way to slaughter, not just parade at in a March in D.C.

    * is an excellent resource to evaluate a particular hospice. The articles on Euthanasia are cautionary tales….

  3. Pingback: Some Scriptural Thoughts on Death (B) | Fr. Ted's Blog

  4. Pingback: Three Patristic Saints on Death | Fr. Ted's Blog

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