St. Paul says death is God’s last enemy, but a lot of people disagree. The advocates of “death awareness” and “death-positive” movements suggest death can be a friend. It is the natural biological result of birth, part of our “biologic” journey through our small part of the cosmos, as beautiful as a sunset. We should embrace it.
And true, without Christian notions of God and afterlife and judgment, death actually becomes sort of friendly. But it is a ginned up camaraderie, a cold snuggle with the falling night.
This idea of death-as-friend gives euthanasia supporters their impetus. If death is no enemy to God or Man, we must exercise compassion for those who (in our opinion) suffer for relief from life. It makes a rude kind of sense, absent any god.
Relief From Life
A website comment I saw recently exhibited this “relief from life” approach. “The notion of death as enemy deserves being challenged. One of my parents had a long and suffering death and implored me daily for help to die. Perhaps as a response, the other [parent] went quickly and during sleep. Should we all not be able to choose the latter?”
It would seem a cruelty not to grant the last wish of the dying to die. Help them, quickly and quietly, because death is no longer an enemy. It’s a new variety of “the denial of death.” Denial is a stage of grief the terminally ill go through, and so do those grieving a death. We are all supposed to work ourselves out of denial quickly so we can move on. We need to get on with our lives. Making death a friend is the way to do it. Why grieve if death is as natural as a sunset?
But what does death mean? There is a Christian answer. Death means that God brings us a step nearer to Him. We do not believe we die into nothing. We believe we die into God. If that is in any way true, human life has value beyond measuring. Death is God’s enemy, and ours. And for us through Christ He has promised to destroy it.
But if death means we merely slip away to nothing, if we behave as if there is only death after death, life itself comes to be nothing worth worrying about.
Russell E. Saltzman, a former Lutheran pastor, entered the Catholic Church in 2016. He writes a regular column for First Things and for Aleteia, and was the long-time editor of The Forum Letter. His articles for Catholic World Report can be found here. “Death is Not Your Friend” is adapted from “Death: Friend or Foe?,” one of his Aleteia columns.