People seem to have a problem with death.
I guess that is only natural and it drives many of our rituals and beliefs, but a couple of recent news stories have troubled me.
First, many of you have heard me speak about the case of Charlie Gard. I’m troubled that the case seemed to be hijacked by political interests and particular religious groups to score points. Regardless of the merits of the case, I’m offended that Donald Trump tries to portray himself as a hero for trying to get treatment for Charlie whilst at the same time trying to force through a healthcare bill which will remove treatment for huge numbers of Americans. I’m struggling with the contradiction that Christians who believe in an afterlife in which our mortal bodies are fully restored are most vocal in demanding that earthly life be preserved at all costs. St Paul wrestled with this, but understood that there was a reason for his continuing earthly life despite his suffering.
I worry that Great Ormond Street Hospital (and its highly committed staff) is receiving vile abuse for trying to do the right thing for this child. I’ve spoken to Christians who feel guilty that they are praying for Charlie’s suffering to end and for Charlie’s parents to find some peace.
Second, there is the story about the missing airman who police believe has died and his body has been lost amongst rubbish in a landfill site. After spending one million pounds on the search the police have called off the investigation concluding that his remains are most probably there but unlikely to be found.
Again, I understand the heartbreak of the family and the difficulty of obtaining ‘closure’ when the body can’t be buried or cremated, and the cause of death cannot be fully confirmed.
These two stories sit in great contrast to the most recent funeral which I took, where the deceased was a great age, had lived well, and was ready to die. Her life-long Christian faith inspired those around her and we celebrated her passing. This is supposed to be how it works.
In contrast, most of our rituals derive from a time when life was more commonly short. Very many Victorian children died in infancy. Now that
most people live to a great age we are struggling to deal with our emotions when we observe the exceptions.
Of course, this is great progress. Not just progress that we live longer, but also that we value the God-given gift of life.
In reality, we might not like to set a price on human life, but it happens every day. Our politicians and civil servants make judgements on our behalf about which medicines and treatments can be prescribed, they make judgements about how much should be spent making things safer.
This doesn’t make it any more comfortable when we see the reality of the judgements: “What should we spend on one child’s health?” “How much should we spend searching for a body?”
And yet, we believe that we are each of infinite value. Jesus, fully God, chose to live a life on earth, fully human, giving up everything for us.
The truth is that if God values us that much, then we really are pretty important.