In The Pastor as Public Theologian Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer makes the following provocative observation, “What are pastor-theologians for? The short answer: for cultivating life and for coping with death. “Death” is more than the moment of dying. It is rather the sense of an ending that casts its dark shadow over everything else in our stories (Vanhoozer, The Pastor as Public Theologian, pp. 104-105).”
We know that death is certain, we all say the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. Yet there is in our culture and even in our churches a certain unwillingness and inability to cope with the reality of death. I once visited a man who had been just diagnosed with cancer. He was in his 80s and in light of the doctors prognosis had opted not to receive treatment. This does not mean that he had begun to cope, or was willing to begin the process of preparing for death. Quite the opposite. During the months before his passing he did not mention the word cancer, even to his wife. On one particular occasion he did express that he was expecting a miracle and shared with me a booklet by Norman Vincent Peale that he had been given on the subject of claiming miracles.
The challenge for pastors today in my opinion is to minister to a people who have been conditioned by the culture to ignore the reality of death in every day life. I believe philosopher Luc Ferry clearly points the predicament of man in ignoring death:
Death is not as simple as ane event as it is ordinarily credited with being. It cannot merely be written off as ‘the end of life’, as the straightforward termination of our existence…Death is, in the midst of life, that which will not return; that which belongs irreversibly to time past, which we have hope of recovering. It can mean childhood holidays with friends, the divorce of parents, or the houses or schools we have to leave, or a thousand other examples: even if it does not always mean the disappearance of a loved one, everything that comes under the heading of ‘Nevermore’ belongs in death’s ledger ( Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought, pp. 4-5).
Death lies lurking in every area of life, casting its shadows everywhere. Which means the liberating light of the gospel needs to be brought and applied to every area where death casts its shadow. Lets us be committed to knowing how to minister to those going through death’s shadows in every day life.