“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sanitized Society

"Death and taxes are the only certainties in life." I'm sure you've heard this before. But an alien visiting our planet would argue that in this country it's only taxes. Rarely do we have to confront the reality of death. One reason this is so is that people live much longer now. I read a statistic that the average life expectancy was 47 years in 1909. I'm glad for the good health and sanitary systems we have in this country. But we've done more than just sanitize our environment. We've sanitized our life to the extent that we've isolated ourselves from having to face the reality of death.

We know the meat we eat comes from animals who were once alive. But we only see the package of steak in the cooler. People who are terminal are sent to hospitals and hospices to die. And our pets are "put to sleep" in the vet's office. We get to leave the room before the final breaths are taken. We don't have to face death until it comes to someone close to us and even then it usually takes place somewhat removed from us. . We are informed our loved one has died. We have a chance to get ourselves emotionally ready and then we're ushered in to see the lifeless body for a few moments and then we move on.

I've come to believe that the way we deal with death in our culture has deprived us of a deep human need; we need to be confronted by death. And since we've sanitized the real thing our of our experience we feed on imitations through television, books and movies. A good murder mystery holds our attention. And crime shows and war stories may horrify us, but we are still fascinated by them. But we know it's not real. Still, deep within us is a need to be reminded of our mortality. So our media culture has invented a "safe" way for us to do that. It's like riding a roller coaster. We get to feel the danger without really facing the danger. We get our "fix" of death and then go on about our lives.

These thoughts have been rolling around in my head for several years. But the discrepancy between "fake" media death and the real thing came clear to me this afternoon as I sat with Q--our dog--and watched death slowly take him. He hadn't eaten for days, and we watched him get weaker and weaker. Our days became times of a death watch, wondering if he would die in the night or while we were at work. I was glad I got to be with him at the end, although, I don't know if he was aware of anything at all.

And even though death ended his suffering and I knew in my head it was inevitable, deep inside of me something cried out that this was wrong. Today, seeing him up close, I know in my bones that death is my enemy. He may be welcomed at times, but an enemy he remains. Of course, I know the theology. I know the story of our fallen world and how death came to be. But true knowing is intimacy, not merely concepts.

Our sanitized society has removed us from this intimacy of knowing and facing real death. Perhaps it was a noble idea to spare us from pain. But I believe we are robbed of a vital part of our humanity--fully facing the result of living in this sinful world. And, in contrast, we are robbed of fully embracing the message of the Kingdom of God: that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. I've had the concepts in my head that death is my enemy. But today I know it in my heart. So I pray "Thy Kingdom come" and look forward to the time when both death and hell are thrown into the lake of fire.


Dad said...


I read your comments through tears. Ever since we heard of Q's death, I've had tears every time I think of him. Yes, in spite of the gloss of Hollywood, death is an enemy, a wrong that mocks our dreams and blights our hopes. Small wonder that the Gospel is considered good news.

Heather said...

I was with my grandpa when he passed away earlier this year. I understand the reality of it as you describe. It is heart changing, to say the least. There are a lot of emotions as you watch someone die - sadness, of course, but also a resolve to live life to the fullest of the potential God has created in you. I truly am sorry about the loss of Q - he was a part of our family for a long time, and he will be missed.