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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Trivializing of Death

Word for the Day

Today's Word: Death

Elizabeth Kubler Ross was perhaps the first to point out the American dysfunctional view of death. Westerners simply didn't talk about death. In a certain sense our world today has changed, but not necessarily for the better. Today death is frequently mentioned. Consider all the television shows which routinely have someone, or several someones, die. Death is something even children frequently see.

But there remains a problem. We have gone from ignoring death to trivializing it. Television shows take us from tragedy to happiness all inside an hour. It's as if death were no big thing and grief just a momentary bump on the road.

This made me think of one of the Old Testament "trivializer," Jonah. We might remember Jonah and the great fish which swallowed him. But what got him there? God asked the prophet to go preach to the evil Ninevites. Jonah instead ran away -- right into the belly of the fish.

Why did Jonah run? Simple. He knew God might be merciful and Jonah wanted the Ninevites dead both in this world and perhaps the next.

Once apprehended by the great fish, Jonah did go and preach, "Yet three days and Nineveh will be destroyed." But Nineveh repented, God relented and Jonah watched from outside of town. Jonah not only took the potential death of the Ninevites lightly, he was very upset when the vine which gave him shade was struck by a worm and died. Jonah complained, "I wish I could die."

Consider Jonah's way of thinking. He trivialized the death of the Ninevites, wanting their destruction because he simply didn't like them. He didn't see that he put the human lives of the Ninevite people on a lower place than the "death" of his shade tree. And he further trivialized dying when, simply because he was hot and didn't get his way, he said, "I want to die." Anyone trivialized death this way?

Our world similarly trivializes dying. We see in the news (or on a movie) many people die. Perhaps we think some deserve it, and maybe they do, but we much too quickly accept the deaths of many. Those deaths were human souls with families in pain. When we think the TV dramas are right and the grief is short-lived, we make their death trivial. It is not.

We have two companion truths.

First, death is real, hurts deeply and stays with us. We do not recover when we trivialize or underestimate death's power. When someone we love dies, the hurt comes with the separation. The hurt lasts and might revisit us with powerful and unexpected bouts of grief. Unlike a TV show the pain won't be gone in an hour.

But, second, we can handle death and once again experience joy. Christians see by the Bible that death is a defeated enemy. Though death truly hurts, it is just one part of our life. Perhaps our faith guides us, or we celebrate the life we shared. But we are built with resilience. We can make it.

If you must play "Trivial Pursuit" don't take death as a category. You won't ever come out on top.

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