There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.
The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)
See also my blog Poor Lazarus and the Rich Man.
Twenty-five years ago there was an article in NEWSWEEK magazine entitled, “Our Fear of Dying”, 4 October 1993. The author, Daniel Callahan made several comments that still seem true today:
“As a health obsessed society, we do not know what to do with death, other than to try to control it.”
Callahan mentioned the American medical enterprise invests heavily in trying to overcome diseases that lead to death – a veritable war on death. He noted that in the medical enterprise in America there is
“… the potent assumption that death is essentially an accident, correctable with enough money, will and scientific ingenuity…”
If America put enough of its wealth and entrepreneurial spirit into it, medical science would make death itself a thing of the past. Callahan wrote that other modern cultures around the world were much more at peace with human mortality. America perhaps was in a great deal of denial about what it is to be human. About the time that he wrote that article, I was a speaker at a continuing education event for doctors at a local university, speaking about end of life issues. I remember clearly how the surgeons in the group were almost never ready to admit that there was an end to treatment for patients and almost all felt there was always one more thing that could be tried. The family practice doctors on the other hand seemed to have a clearer sense that there was a point where you have to admit there is nothing more you can do medically for a patient. Callahan argues that we
“… should seek to educate physicians to see death not as an accident that medicine has failed to eliminate, but as a permanent part of the human condition that requires medicine’s good care, a fitting and inevitable final goal of the entire enterprise.”
Our fear of death drove us to denial about its reality, leading to our throwing money into an effort to defeat death, and yet Americans like all humans continue to die daily. We may increase life expectancy, but we should expect death as well. We dream that medical science can eventually conquer all the causes of death, that there really is absolutely nothing to limit our human ingenuity and drive.
Perhaps we should read again the Genesis account of the tower of Babel. Those folks too believed nothing could limit them. But that Is another story.
The Bible reminds us that death has a spiritual cause. We cannot eliminate death by using only medical means. Death is related to sin, and has something to do with our own spiritual lives and our relationship to God. Or, more accurately our loss of a relationship to God.
Everything in this world comes to an end, everything has a limit – a great basketball game, a wonderful symphony, the beauty of autumn, an exquisite gourmet meal, a spirited dance, a football winning streak.
Death can only be cheated through our own repentance, our establishing a right relationship with God. Godliness sees us through the experience of death into the realm of eternal life.
Some years ago I saw a poem written during the Byzantine Empire. It said:
Eat, Drink, be merry for tomorrow
You may die.
But you never do.
You never die tomorrow, for the day of your death is always this day you are in, and there is no tomorrow for the one who has died today. The poem points out to us a fallacy in our thinking which makes us believe we will live forever since tomorrow never comes. Today, however, is the day.
Some ask the question, why do we die at all? Why is there death. We Christians might respond by saying that is the wrong question. The real question is “why is their life?” Why does anything exist at all?
It all exists because of God and God’s love. Death brings this life to an end, but death cannot change the purpose of life, which is to love God and be in communion with God. Death cannot separate us from the love of God.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
Many people wonder what happens to us when we die and it is a common question asked in churches. All kinds of speculations exist and descriptions of life after death, even in Orthodoxy, toll house theories and the like. Read the Gospel lesson above (Luke 16:19-31), it too gives a description of life after death, albeit in a parable, so it is not trying to give an accurate portrayal of life beyond the grave. But in the parable ultimately the rich man now in his life-after-death situation wants to try to reach back to the people he left behind in the world. There is this irony – We in the world are all wondering about life after death, and he in the afterlife is worried about those living in the world! And basically the parable is not teaching us about what happens to us after death, but a warning to us to pay attention to how we live while on earth. The afterlife cannot help us live properly on earth and living correctly on earth is far more important to our Lord Jesus than the life after death. He who proclaimed His kingdom is not of this world spends very little time talking about life after death.
We might remember that according to the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve in the garden of Paradise, after they sin, they try to hide from God.
Notice how different our Lord Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane, in His deepest prayer He desires to be with God and not be left alone.
Both were facing death, but for Adam and Eve death meant separation from God and they chose death and that separation from God. For Christ, death could not separate Him from His father. Death is no friend for Jesus. Christ sees beyond death to eternal life and an unending loving relationship with God our Father. Christ chooses eternal life.
Humans were created for immortality, death is a disintegration of the human. But our battle with death is a spiritual battle which cannot be fought by medicine alone. The medical enterprise will not bring an end to death.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, shall live.” (John 11:25)