Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Thursday, September 18, 2014

On an untimely death (classic essay, reprinted)

Dear Hannah,

One of the most strange and backward things a person could say is that another person’s death was untimely.  Of course, there's really only one timely time for a person to die, and that is when he does.  All other times are incredibly out of place.

But words don't always mean what they appear to mean, and if phrases may be symbols for other things which we actually mean, it seems more reasonable to translate untimely with we were not expecting him to die at this time, something which is still strange to say.  And it's strange because it insists that what we expect of reality is that it curbs to our expectations, which is really the opposite of the truth: our very survival teaches us that our expectations must curb to meet reality, or we will end up dying.

Of course, the reality of the matter is that we may die at any time, and that living life without a healthy and sober view of death is something someone should only do if he considers his life unimportant: in other words, it's the mindset he should embrace if he wants to live his life without any care or concern for his soul, or without any urgency in love and selflessness.  To live as though we have time has nothing to do with whether we do; it has to do with pretending something other than that we don’t.

The Christian knows there's a better way to think about this whole scenario, and that a sensible position on the matter contains multiple axioms.  The first is that God has put eternity in man’s heart, as the Preacher says, which means (in a roundabout way) that we are inclined toward thinking about living as though we can live forever.  The second is that God has appointed a time for us to die, and that we have nothing to do with averting His will (Matthew 10:29).  And if these two statements may be taken in combination, the Christian can only come to to conclusion that man’s most natural tendency is to delude himself about a death which is inevitable, so that he can do things which should be considered avoidable.  And if we are to live Christian lives, and enter into our Father’s presence hearing that well done, thou good and faithful servant, we must teach ourselves and one another, with a healthy dose of history and Scripture, that however long we think we will live, that we are going to die — and that it is likely sooner than we think.

Your father,

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