I came to terms with my mortality a while ago over a wide array of experiences with bad driving, club sports injuries and five semesters of biblical languages. More recently, though, I’ve had to come to terms with my parents’ mortality. Being away from them so often for so long, and really only getting to see them for a couple weeks out of the year means it’s hard to have an active knowledge on how they’re doing. My 50-year-old generally healthy father got the common cold last weekend, so naturally, I started preparing for his death.
I think a good portion of our generation, thanks to the extended influences of Neitzche, Freud and Marx, have become both comfortable with and fearful of what it means to die. Pop culture is oversaturated with death, telling us that death is inseparable from life. The “yolo” lifestyle, and many forms of “carpe diem” stem from the pre-accepted assumption that one day, we will no longer be capable of seizing the day. We are comfortable with death when we think in terms of ourselves, but whenever I lose a loved one, that is when I begin to think “there is something seriously wrong with our existence, and it needs to be fixed.”
Sometimes, it feels a little weird saying, “Yes, I believe in life after death,” the same way it feels cliche to say, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” It is one thing to agree with these statements, another thing to confess them and still another to fully believe them. In my preaching classes, I was taught that we should spend a good portion of our sermon on the application of the sermon topic; this leads to learning “what do we believe, and what it looks like if we believe this.” In my theology classes, and as a Bible major who doesn’t feel called to full-time preaching, I’ve begun to learn there are few activities that make me a better person than contemplating God.
Running the phrase in my head “I believe in life after death” over and over again doesn’t seem to make me any less anxious about my death, or the deaths of those whom I love. However, when my theology and my worldview zooms out to eternity and God’s mercy, I suddenly have the patience, the joy, the peace and the gentleness it takes to be in relationship with people who are not myself. When I truly believe in the gospel, I fear death less and still become less comfortable with it, feeling in my bones there is something seriously wrong with how death works.
It feels silly, too, to write out a confession of faith, especially in a school paper, but I think sometimes it’s helpful for a community to get over that. I believe that once I pay my two pennies to death and the rest of my bank goes to the IRS, my soul will still be around, and I think I’m a better person because I believe this than I would be if I didn’t believe that there’s life after death and taxes.