The mystery of life and death-A A +A
The Living Spirit
Saturday, February 4, 2012
TROPICAL Storm Sendong that hit Cagayan de Oro before Christmas has taught us Cagayanons several lessons about the mystery of life and death.
First of all, during that night of the 16th of December, we experienced personally what the Bible says, that death comes as a thief in the night. Nobody of us expected this tragedy to happen. We in our subdivision noticed only a very strong wind in the middle of the night. But I went back to sleep again. The next morning I found out that several parts of our barangay in Canitoan had been flooded with mud and many houses had been washed out by the flood. Then after several days, I heard the shocking news that hundreds of people in Cagayan de Oro had perished in the flood and hundreds were still missing.
When I heard the testimonies of the survivors during the memorial service on the 40th day, I realized that indeed we are dust, as the liturgy of Ash Wednesday says, and to dust we shall return. (In Holland, we say jokingly: remember man that you are Dutch and to Dutch you shall return).
It is true, in life we ‘go away as we have come’. After death, at best we are buried or cremated, but the victims of Sendong found their last resting place in the sea. Many of the victims were still children. And we, at best we reach an age of seventy or eighty, but that is then the limit, and even that limit is just like one day, it is as short as one heavy downpour of rain.
The seventy or eighty years that are given to us are frequently full of struggles and anxieties, a building of castles in the air. We dream big dreams and we work ourselves to death, and yet our labor does not produce that many results. No wonder, the Psalmist says: ‘Teach us to count our days, so that we may gain some wisdom. But the good people who may have gained some wisdom cannot escape death, neither can the bad people who haven’t learned anything.’
Life is indeed a learning process that ends with death. And in death we are all the same. Psalm 49 says that in death, all people look alike. Poor or rich, wise or fools, young or old, all of us will die.
Some people die because of a deadly disease or because of a fatal accident; often they are still too young to die. Others feel that they are forgotten by Death, when somebody close to them dies, they say in dismay: I am left out again.
You may be able to do many things for others but to save them from death, you cannot.
Death means the end of all the good things you have done for others, the end of your commitment to justice and love. Wise and good people die; the same happens to bad and corrupt people. About the latter, the Psalmist says: ‘As sheep they are confined in Sheol, death is their shepherd. In the morning the righteous trample upon their graves. Their bodies are decaying; they find no resting place’ (Ps. 49.15).
They are gone forever, nobody remembers them anymore. After their death, life on earth continues. But the wise and the righteous, who during their life have put all their hope in God, they on the other hand can be sure that they will be taken up among the Living. ‘God will redeem my life from the grasp of death and He will receive me’ (Ps. 49.16).
Life and death is a learning process. The Greek philosopher Seneca, who lived in the year 4 before Christ and never had known Christ, writes in one of his letters about death: ‘It is of utmost importance that we learn how to die. May be, you think that it is not necessary to learn about something that you cannot put into practice anyway, because you die only once in a life time. But you always must learn about something you cannot try out before. That is precisely the reason why we have to prepare ourselves for it.’
A contemporary of Seneca, St. Paul, who has learned so much from Christ about life, knows for sure that the suffering in our life cannot be compared to the happiness that awaits us after our death (Rom. 8,18), but just the same, he encourages the Christian community in Tessalonica to be always on the watch and to be sober, in expectation of the end (1Tess. 5,1-10).
A Dutch poet says this about the mystery of life and death (freely translated in English):
Do you want to live then forever?
That is what the army general asked his men
Who were about to surrender to the enemy.
You have to die anyway once in a life time.
I don’t know whether I wanted to remain here
But I wanted to know what life is all about.
That, for sure, defies any description,
and it stands out only in the darkness.
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Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 05, 2012.