Updated: Nov 11, 2021
On Death and Dying
I remember when I was a small child, accompanying my father to a variety of Jewish functions. The weddings were magical, despite not understanding what exactly was going on. I saw my father serving his community, our community.
The funerals were almost hushed, as if not to offend the evil eye. Of course these are my words, based on my understanding of Jewish culture and practice.
It was clear that funerals were not weddings, quite the antithesis of the latter. Their parents' eyes were different, something removed that was previously there. Now I see it for what it is, rightful mourning. An appropriate reaction to life's greater tragedy. Regardless of what happens to the soul, we all leave behind an empty spot in the interconnected web of life. Unlike machines, people cannot be replaced.
As a thirty something year old man, I started thinking about death roughly ten years ago. Like many young people, I saw myself as invisible, with really bad things only happening to other people. Once death hit my family, it transitioned from the realm of theory to the realm of the personal.
Death is usually hidden, discussed with euphemisms and allegory. This can do a disservice to those who wish to avoid the subject, and I am not just talking about wills and estates. In fact, death does much to impact the realm of the living. It forces other people to take notice, to look into the mirror, and to assess their own mortality. This can be a breakthrough moment, causing someone to make greater use of their time.
If death is the end of life, what is life? What is our purpose? Why did so many things happen, in perfect order, for you to be reading this post at this time? Think of the insane number of factors that had to line up perfectly, one deviation removed from never have existed. Let that fact humble you, as it surely humbles me.
As with cars being designed by a designer, people have the same essence. Our body parts are perfectly engineered, discarding any emphasis on sickness or defect. For life to manifest, in any fashion, begs the thinking man (and woman) to look closer.
Scripture speaks greatly on death, planting it firming within the narrative offered in the text. The Abrahamic Tradition (Jewish, Christianity, and Islam) proclaim Ethical Monotheism, as revealed through the Prophets. In other words, there is One God and He cares about the condition of our soul. Both collectively and as an individual.
I do not find it productive to overwhelm people with Scripture, especially if the person comes with little familiarity on the subject. The best approach (in my opinion) is to let the person lead, providing an ear and company. Few people are in the mood to be preached at, especially if time is limited. However, many people have questions, perhaps answered they have pondered over the years. Even if someone is a staunch atheist, they might ask what the traditions teach, even if it provides no comfort. The idea is to be there, both in body and in spirit.
Moral Foundation for the Afterlife
Let’s assume the premise that there is a Creator, one that gave humans agency (freedom to choose Good over Evil). If this God is a Moral God, how can the innocent be murdered while criminals are exalted? This would create a problem, necessitating intervention. While God has (and does) interfere in our world, most conditions are earned by our own hubris. With freedom comes rights and responsibilities, unique in the world, unknown to other living creatures.
Humans have freewill, the ability to act in accordance with one's own personal volition. This is not afforded to animals, who can only act in accordance with their nature. Thinking about it like this, do lions murder zebras or kill them? Is the lion evil? What did he do that deviated from His design, His Essence?
Of course not! Evil is within the scope of morality, completely foreign to animals and other forms of life. Furthermore humans have a much greater impact on our environment, able to change it due to the organized nature of the universe. This is another argument for Intelligent Design, a topic that I will explore further in future blog posts and so forth.
Is it possible to comfort someone facing death? Yes, it happens all the time. Some people expect an affirmation of the afterlife while others seek to repent for their sins. The human relationship (with God) needs no middle man, regardless of what the Pope may say. He has given all of us the chance to approach Him, personally, without fear or hesitation.
In the Jewish Tradition, the sick are asked to recite a Vidui Prayer, a petition (to God) for the cleaning of the soul. There are several traditions kept-at least offered-which prepare the Soul for its return. The Jewish view sees life as a duality, a complementary relationship between the soul and the body. Without a body, the soul would have no way of interacting with the material world. On the other hand, a body without a soul cannot do anything but remain dormant.
Christian tradition asks believers for a reaffirmation in Jesus and in the promises of everlasting life. The Christian rite is based on the Jewish system, breaking away due to a disagreement on the identity of the Messiah. Like Jews, Christians read from the Psalms, especially 93 and 121. Christianity is built on the theological framework of Judaism, inheriting the same eschatology and imagery. The educated Christian will understand the nature of the Torah, including the poetic discourses found in the Prophetic Writings.
Consider the Lord's Prayer, the ultimate confession that Christians make when facing death. It is very similar to the Jewish equivalent, placing absolute Sovereignty in the Highest Judge on the Highest Court. It demands that the person accept their place in the Cosmos, completely subservient to the Creator. By proclaiming God, you are proclaiming purpose, a promise in of itself.
I believe that God has a purpose for everyone, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or personal history. I believe that He is accessible to all, without caveat or exception.
Like birth, death is a magical moment, demanding our attention and care. It should not be ignored, spoken about in hushed tones. Instead it should be discussed with honesty and transparency. It is wrong to lie to children, even if the answer is potentially hurtful. They should be taught to understand the human life cycle, giving meaning to their lives from an early age. When something is limited in quantity, it rises in value.
If someone you know is sick, please contact me. I will do whatever I can to help, whether it be in person or Zoom.
Regardless of the person's demographics, I will be honoured to officiate a funeral in the Toronto Area. I take great care in drafting a meaningful eulogy, including a written format that can be submitted to the obituaries section of the newspaper.
My name is Brother Jeremy and I am here to serve All God's Children.
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