The Presence of Death

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 01/24/2013

Our world is so different from a mere century ago. Today we routinely undergo minor surgeries, hardly giving a second thought to the anesthesia and antibiotics that make them minor.

But what we consider minor today could have easily been a life and death (not to mention terrifyingly painful) situation in a time without these medical advances. What would it have been like to live then, when an awareness of death was a constant part of life? When one’s own death, even from a minor accident, was always a real possibility? And what have we lost because of our current lack of awareness?

Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” Our chances of meeting death are still 100%, but we rarely contemplate this because we rarely bump into this reality. And what happens when we don’t “take our impending death to heart”? We can slip right into living smaller lives, where the big questions of existence and meaning surrounding death are easily overrun by the constant stream of trivialities right in front of us.

What have we lost, both as individuals and as a culture, without the presence of death? When I look at the depth and beauty of the music, art, literature, and theology of the past, I have to wonder. There’s a good possibility our comfort has led to much of our cultural sickness and spiritual apathy (just as it did for the ancient Israelites). I certainly don’t want to go back to the days when a broken leg could result in death. Still, it’s sobering to think our relief from present pain and death has come at such a cost.

And that cost is an unsettling reminder of who we are as fallen creatures, because it means our sinfulness and rebellion against God corrupts even moral goods like the use of antibiotics to alleviate suffering. Rather than translating the comfort and ease medicine brings us into unhindered opportunities to seek and worship God, we’ve turned it into a tool to enable us to avoid thinking about Him.