Should we be concerned about one of the great mysteries of our humanity?
| It doesn’t matter how we say we feel about dying; most of us don’t want to die. It’s not that we actually believe we can beat death and live forever. We just don’t want to die leaving family and life – as we know it – behind. The thought of being separated from the only existence we understand can be a very chilling and lonely thought. Some of us might argue that we would gladly leave this hard and cruel world for some better rest in the great beyond. The obvious problem with such thinking is that it is based only on an idea. No one really knows what awaits in that outer darkness. When we really begin to ponder these solemn questions we are most truly left in a vast unknown.
What is known is where we are at this very moment. Yes, there is trouble in this life, but we must admit that much of that trouble arises from the very poor choices we make. Beyond that, there is wonder, beauty, and our sensory enjoyment of the world around us. As human beings, we are alive in every sense of the word. The very thought of the stimulus of life coming to a final end can be quite disconcerting. Until I know a great deal more than I now know, I’ll choose life over death for as long as I am granted the choice.
I recently had the pleasure of reading an article written by Philosopher Gabriel Rockhill and carried by The New York Times. That’s amusing, a writer named Gabriel writing about death, or, better yet, non-death. The title of Gabriel’s piece was, “WHY WE NEVER DIE.” I immediately related to the article because I had written an article espousing similar thoughts almost a year ago. In any case, I decided to engage in a little analysis and expansion of Rockhill’s thoughts. The subject matter is intriguing, so let me begin with my humble effort.
As we have already pointed out, every rational human being understands that the day is coming when they will die. We may not know when or how, but we are assured that the day will come. For those who comprise the older generations, this realization may come to occupy many of their thoughts. It isn’t because older people just sit around thinking of when they will die, but with each passing year, they are reminded by the pains and blemishes that their years are setting as surely as the evening Sun. I have a personal saying that speaks directly to this truth. “When I was twenty I gave no thought to the day when I would be sixty-four, but now that I am sixty-four I give much thought to the day when I will be seventy-four.”
For those of the younger generations, thoughts of death occupy little to none of their waking moments. As I have suggested, the young usually don’t concern themselves with anything – as they see it – so far in the future. There are more than enough tragic examples of young people meeting with an untimely end. With faster and faster cars, drugs, alcohol, and suicide, the ledger is filled with those not yet thirty. In spite of grim statistics that young people hear about almost every day, the mind of youth moves on and continues to live only in the moment with no thought for tomorrow.
So that is, indeed, how so many look at life, the old and the young processing death in very distinct ways. In fact, if you travel the world over you will find an amazing array of philosophies by which humans deal with death.
And how does Gabriel Rockhill deal with death? Here is part of his philosophy: “Our existence has numerous dimensions, and they each live according to different times. The biological stratum, which I naively took to mean life in general, is in certain ways a long process of demise – we are all dying all the time, just at different rhythms. Far from being an ultimate horizon beyond the bend, death is the constitutive feature of the unfolding of biological life. In other words, I am confronting my death each day that I live. Moreover, the physical dimension of existence clearly persists beyond any biological threshold, as the material components of our bodies mix and mingle in different ways with the cosmos. The artifacts that we have produced also persevere, which can range from our physical imprint on the world to objects we have made… There is, as well, a psychosocial dimension that survives our biological withdrawal, which is the impact that we have had – for better or worse – on the people around us. In living, we trace a wake in the world.”
Well, that is certainly a mouthful, and not greatly removed from what a great many people in this world believe, even if they would not express it in those terms. Most people believe that we do live on after we die. When we get to the how and where of the afterlife is when it can get a little tricky. An Atheist doesn’t believe in God or in an afterlife. They believe that when you die you are like Rover, dead all over. Pagans believe in Earth Spirits and a New Age pantheon of deities. Christians believe in Heaven and Hell, although many have rejected Hell in favor of a loving and all-embracing God who rejects no one – except Hitler. And then there are those waiting for the mother ship to transport them to a utopian galaxy far, far away. Of course, we have omitted many of the world’s religions but who can even keep track these days; billions of people clinging to one life-line or another, with none really knowing whether theirs will hold under the ultimate strain.
I believe it is here that we arrive at the crux of our analysis. With the thousands of beliefs all over the world, how do we arrive at anything resembling a central truth? Without the truth as a foundation, we wouldn’t know if we live on after death or whether we should be afraid to die or not. But, as far as the truth is concerned, how do we find it, or recognize it when we do? For example, many people in the world will proclaim that the Holy Bible is the quantitative truth. That may well be so, but how do we know that it is so? The answer that most would give is that they believe it by faith and that they have experienced this faith through a move of God upon their life. It is, therefore, the experience that solidifies their faith. But here is where we encounter a potentially serious problem. I will first say that I have all due respect for those who truly believe they have experienced an encounter with God. These encounters can have a very powerful and life altering effect on people; of this, there is no doubt. The problem I have is that, although a person or persons may be moved emotionally when these things happen, the end result of the experience may be completely and utterly false to its core. Have we not seen time and time again what tragedies befall those who give their entire lives to a false leader? And no matter how many times people are shocked and awed by what often happens to those who follow blindly, there are more than enough disciples waiting in line for the next self-styled messiah. Was it P.T. Barnum who said a sucker is born every minute? Well, no, he didn’t actually say that. He did say, “Every crowd has a silver lining.” The two sayings are similar and are the driving motivation behind many gurus of our day. In a nutshell, experiences may make you feel more alive than you have ever felt. Then they may turn your living dream into a living nightmare.
I have always been a very pragmatic individual. I believe that the use of applied logic will answer many otherwise perplexing questions. Most simply put, there are things in this world that tend to logic and things that do not. It is obviously illogical to set out across the desert without water. Conversely, it is most logical for any human being to question this world in which he lives. It would be illogical for any being capable of thought and reason not to do so.
When we consider this world and our existence in it, there are logical questions and assumptions. Is it truly logical – in spite of the endless scientific banter – to believe that this earth in its perfect motion and order is simply an occurrence of random chance? Is there any logic in believing that anything which comes about purely by chance could perfectly sustain any life forms with the same overall perfection? I hate to use the old watch analogy, but, if you were to throw all the intricate parts of a Swiss watch into the air, would you expect a fully functional watch to fall into your hand? For anything that just happens by chance, there is no logical explanation for its perfection. That being the case, there is surely something else going on here that we neither see nor understand.
In any civilization, men are governed by some system of rules and laws. The term, “Rule of Law” is most often applied in countries with advanced legal systems. This rule of law applies to all men, to the rich and powerful and the poor. The system stands to show that, no matter where they stand on the social ladder, men are to be held accountable for their actions. But there is another law to which most people give little thought. It is called the “Natural Law”, or, as it is often called, “The Law of Nature”. Of this law, Aristotle notes: “Aside from the particular laws that each people has set up for itself, there is a common law that is according to nature.” Now, the reason I mention these two laws at all is for a little contrast, and to suggest that the answer to our standing questions may find a solution in the logic of the law of nature. Allow me an attempted explanation.
Whenever we speak to the question as to whether we live on after death, or whether we should be afraid to die, we need to examine the instinctive nature of man found in the natural law. In other words, there is something that man instinctively knows that no man-made law or science can teach. The Bible gives us a fascinating glimpse into that hidden place of the heart of mankind. Paul, the Apostle, writes: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the Law (the Law of Moses given to the Israelites) do by nature the things contained in the Law, these having not the Law, are a Law unto themselves: Which show the work of the Law written in their hearts…” This is a perfect example of natural law. It is something that men know instinctively without have to be taught. I believe that we know in our hearts that we will live after death. Of course, we do not fully understand how this eternal life will be manifest, but we feel that it will. Yes, it is true that there are many who will refuse to believe this, but there were also men who steadfastly believed in times past that the world was flat. They could not believe what they could not understand. Ironically, men have turned to a belief in scientific principles. Many of these principals are far beyond the understanding of a great many of those who believe them, yet they believe them just the same.
Let us once again consider the Bible. No other book in history has been attacked as much as the Bible. However, in spite of how it has been vilified, the Bible continues to outsell all other books. And just when many may have thought that the Bible had been relegated to a rarely visited corner of the religious section of the local bookstore, some law schools are looking to the Bible to further their understanding of the law. I sometimes wonder whether we may have come full circle. There was a time when the Bible figured heavily in any exposition of the law. This was in no small way due to one of the greatest jurists to ever practice law, William Blackstone. His commentaries on English common law were built substantially on the foundation of Biblical truth. When the United States came into existence, the Founding Fathers relied greatly on Blackstone’s body of work. Through the earliest years of our country and up to around nineteen thirty-five, the courts of our land continued to reference Blackstone’s commentaries in their decisions. And then, things slowly began to change. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, more and more men began to seek the new enlightenment of Humanism. As this happened, men began to view the Bible as antiquated and out of touch with the increasing knowledge of a modern enlightened society. However, and in spite of how the Bible may endure the smirks of atheists and any who consider themselves intellectually sophisticated, the great majority of Americans still turn to the Bible for its strength and enduring wisdom. I wonder why that is?
I believe that the underlying reality is that everything within mankind lends credibility to the existence of God. Of course, there will always be those who make a career of arguing as to what form this God may take. Yet, for every point and counterpoint, there is only one God that can stand face to face with reason and a magnitude of pure wisdom. That God is none other than the Christian God of the Holy Bible. One of the great theologians of the 17th century, Stephen Charnock, writes: “God, in regard to His existence, is not only by the discovery of faith but of reason. “…there are outward objects in the world, and common principals in the conscience, whence it – the existence of God – may be inferred.” Charnock continues, “It is impossible that nature can naturally and universally lie; therefore those who ascribe all to nature, and set it in the place of God, contradict themselves if they give not the credit to it in that which it universally affirms.” The world around us speaks volumes for the existence of a designer far beyond anything we can imagine. Even a virus can proclaim the glory of God while man proclaims his own glory. But consider that this same man found thumping his chest in arrogate pride is soon found turned to dust, with little to show that he was ever here. While men see themselves as the undisputed masters of the earth, they are, in fact, the most vulnerable of all creatures.