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Modern Christianity view and perspective on Death and Dying Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 26th, 2019

Introduction

Death is a big enemy to humanity; few people if any would rejoice the death of a loved one. Even though some people see death as ‘promotion to glory’, many people fear death to an extent of shunning any discussions or thoughts about it. Death is a great mystery that religion, science, and philosophy find hard to fathom.

Many questions about death and the state of the dead arise in people’s minds and rarely do they find satisfactory answers. What exactly causes death? What happens after one dies? Is there a possibility of one living again? Such questions cause people to develop many theories, myths, and legends to explain this.

Many groups of people in the world therefore have varied views and perspectives on this topic. Modern Christians face this same uncertainty, because in as much as they use the same source of information, their interpretations vary and so they come up with diverse views and perspectives.

Christian view about death

Christians who believe in the Bible view death as a condition brought about by sin. When God created man, there was no death until the sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit. Therefore, death is a condemnation that resulted from this disobedience. Christians hence now admit death as part of their lives in this world; as Solomon said, there is a time to be born and a time to die.

However, many Christians refuse to accept the reality of death and as a result, many of the beliefs that they hold talk about death being a transition to a better life.

For them that accept the reality of death yet believe in Jesus Christ are not hopeless for there is the promise of life after death. They believe they will be changed on His second coming to immortality, but as long as they live in this world, they will be forced to care for the dying, prepare, and have the courage to face their own death.

However, the many Christian denominations today have different understanding of the Bible on this topic, giving rise to varied views, perspectives and beliefs. Some Christians believe that death is safe to the people of God and that it is a necessity to fit in the complete delight of God (Anderson 104). They also consider that bliss of heaven starts immediately one dies and that one does not have to wait until the day of resurrection.

Moreover, these Christians believe that by death, God often removes his people out of the way of great troubles and temptations (Anderson 105). This means that these people should be willing and even longing to die. This belief holds that once one dies, the soul ascends to heaven in the bliss and that only the body remains in the earth.

The Roman Catholics hold a similar but slightly different belief. The church teaches that there is a place called purgatory where most people go through, to be tortured and purified so that they can later on qualify to get to heaven.

Ray puts it that, “Not only did one have to earn enough to live, but also to pay off the ‘spiritual mortgage’ for the dead as well” (104). This teaching makes many who believe in this doctrine to fear death and be emotionally distressed when they think about their loved ones suffering in the torture of purgatory for do not know their own fate.

Some Christians believe that when somebody dies he or she does not cease to exist but starts another life in a higher place as another human being or as an animal, either in this world or in another world. According to Essene, “Death is an automatic and nearly immediate entrance into a greater sphere of learning, growth, and service to which you are well-accustomed already.

You simply live at that higher level of purpose, joy and understanding…” (172).This belief called incarnation is a bit complex, but there are Christians that strongly hold to it. Some even go ahead to make a wish of what they would like to be on incarnation.

Another common belief is that once a person dies, he or she is in a state of unconsciousness in the dust of the earth awaiting the resurrection either to eternal life or to judgment at the second coming of Jesus.

The basis of this belief is on the biblical teaching of the dead seen as sleeping (Bowker 97). This puts it clear that when people die, they do not know what is happening around them or to their loved ones on earth, but are unconscious of their surroundings until resurrection.

Christian beliefs about the life after death

Various denominations and individuals vary on the belief they have on life after death. Most of the Christians believe in a form of Heaven or bliss where the dead enjoy with God. Others believe that after death the person is freed from pain, trouble and suffering.

Another group of Christians, probably the minority, believes in a state of unconsciousness where the dead do not know anything that is happening around them until the morning of resurrection breaks. Barnes explains it appropriately that “In the Scripture sleep is used to intimate that death will not be final: that there will be an awakening out of this sleep, or a resurrection. …filling the mind with the idea of calm repose after a life of toil…” (Barnes 297).

A little big group of Christians believes that sinners or the wicked go through punishment in hell. There is a variation of this belief on whether this hell is eternal or for a time; also whether the torture is bodily or spiritual. The Catholic Christians believe that sinners pass through purgatory for purification from their sins before the go to heaven. The period that one takes in this place varies from one person to another, probably with the sins committed on earth.

Personally, I believe that all the dead are in their graves in an unconscious state, awaiting resurrection at the second coming of Jesus. At that time, the righteous and unrighteous dead will resurrect and join the living. The righteous living and the ones who will resurrect then will meet Jesus in the sky and go with him to heaven.

All the unrighteous will die again to await judgment and condemnation. This is recorded in 1Thessalonians 4: 13-18. After judgment, sinners will take their punishment in the lake of fire, which is a means for the cleansing of sins from the earth. However, this fire will not be eternal but it will consume until everything perish. Then God will make the earth anew.

Common legends and Myths about death and dying

There are very many myths all over the world about death, given the different cultures that exist in society; however, there are some, which are most common across the cultures. One is the belief that “it will not happen to me” (Vernon 146). Most people do not take a thought at death because they think they are either too young or that it is not anywhere near them.

They forget that them that die do not expect it. Another belief is that it will occur in old age. People do not see death coming in their tender age or at the prime of life. They think that it will ultimately come when they have accomplished all their dreams and old enough not to long for anything anymore; unfortunately, this does not always happen.

Many young children die, young people and them in their prime of life. Some think that they will have lived life to its fullest before they die. On the contrary, many die through accidents and unexpected deaths, as opposed to what they always assume. There are they that think that their family members around their deathbed will surround them as they die while others think that when they die, they will not owe anybody any money (Vernon 147). This of course does not happen.

However, apart from these myths that cut across the world, there are some common cultural myths. An example of such is the myth about the owl and deaths. In some cultures, owls are associated with death and bad omen (Vernon 153). Proponents of this belief claim that when an owl settles near one’s house and starts hooting, a very close person to the occupant or someone he or she knows will die soon. Many people testify its truth, although it is superstitious.

Among the legend that tries to explain, the origin of death is the one of a chameleon and raven. It puts it that God sent a chameleon to tell people that they would never die. Unfortunately, the chameleon as well known is very slow. It took long time to reach to man and pass the message.

By the time, he reached, he stammered from tiredness, and before he could deliver the message, a raven, which had been sent later, came very fast and delivered another message that men will be dying. This is the kind of explanation small children hear before they learn to read their bibles.

From the modern Christian point of view, some people refer to Bible stories as legends. Although many Christians believe that the Biblical accounts are true to the last word, writers as C.S. Lewis and Andrew Greeley refer to some bible stories as ‘true myths’ (Anderson 200). Many Christians may not take this kindly, but it happens.

Christian burial ceremonies and rituals

Unlike other religions, Christians take time to mourn for the dead before they bury them, which may take a period of some days. During this period, friends, relatives, and brethrens to the bereaved attend the mourning period to comfort them. The corpse is laid in a coffin and sweet smelling perfumes are sprayed allover to ward the pungent smell that comes from the corpse.

In some cultures, people take enough time to view the body and pay the last respect before burial, while in others, because of the fear people have for death, the coffin is closed immediately from the mortuary until it is laid to rest. Christians bury their dead in the earth; usually six feet deep, however, some lay them in monuments or cremate them.

Cremation is not a common practice in Christianity but the Catholic Church is slowly adopting it (Herbert 190). Other denominations however have reservations about it. Mourners and the bereaved then lay wreaths around the grave as a show of the last respect.

During funeral services, the officiating minister offers prayers for the family and friends. Catholic priests plead with God to forgive the dead person of his/her sins that he/she has committed in his/her lifetime. However, some Christians say this is not Biblical since no man has power to change the destiny of the dead for one chooses his/her destiny by the kind of lifestyle he/she led whilst alive.

The Catholics also continue praying for the dead so that they may not take a long time in purgatory (Hapgood 360). Some Christians differ with this belief. Most Christians read the Scriptures to encourage the mourners and give them hope. The period of mourning of the family members and relatives varies from culture to culture.

Conclusion

Death is an enemy to many, and many fear it. Due to this fear, many theories have been developed, some for the purposes of comforting people and giving them hope and no reason to fear. However, some of these teachings and beliefs may be misleading and could make people believe in what is not real and turn away from the reality of their comfort.

In the many theories and beliefs put across, some of them have a great level of truth especially after keen bible analysis. Unfortunately, due to the many teachings and beliefs, there is more of confusion than knowledge of the truth. Similarly, this confusion dominates the varied beliefs on life after death. Due to cultural differences, myths and legends of the dead and dying are even more diverse.

To harmonize the differing beliefs concerning death and dying, people should study the bible without personal interests to defend or justify their stand, but with the interest of knowing the truth. The ceremonies and rituals of the dead vary in various denominations.

Therefore, a big challenge comes to the Christians; why is it that they study the same book; the bible, and believe in the same super natural being who is God and do not have similar understanding of the same source of information and God? Theologians and Christian leaders should think about this, and try to admonish any personal interests in search for the truth and the truth alone.

Works Cited

Anderson, Allan. Zion and Pentecost: The Spirituality and Experience of Pentecostal and Zionist/Apostolic Churches in South Africa. Tshwane: University of South Africa Press, 2000.

Barnes, Albert. Notes on the New Testament. Luke and John. London: Grand Rapids press, 1978.

Bowker, John. The Meanings of Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Essene, Virginia. “Jesus – Secret Truths–What Is Life?” Life Times, 1. USA: Naval Institute Press, 1978.

Hapgood, Isabel. Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church Englewood: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, 1922.

Herbert, Thurston. “Christian Burial.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.

Ray, Anderson. Theology, Death and Dying. New York: Berkley publishing group, 1986.

Vernon, Glenn. “Myth-conceptions concerning death-related behavior.” Journal of Religion and Health 16.2 (1977): 140-156.

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