Welcoming God in Death
Is the Best Yet to Come?
The British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott had a wish: “May I be alive when I die!” We could do worse than making his desire our own as we move into our later years. I use it as an antidote to the temptation that asks, “Why bother anymore?” and I now pray, “Lord, may I smile as death approaches!”
How can I make that petition? Surely death is to be dreaded and denied rather than welcomed. Why did the Jesuit scientist Teilhard de Chardin speak of welcoming God in death “with a smile, inward and outward”?
The humble image of the smile indicates our Christian belief that the best is yet to come. We are people of the future! Many Christians today believe in God but not in an afterlife; they hedge their bets. However, in doing so, they become like those “who have no hope” (1 Th 4:13).
Christianity is, in fact, massively future-oriented. Despite all its failings, the Church has always proclaimed that through the kindly intervention of God in Jesus Christ, our lives have ultimate meaning—our destiny lies beyond this present world. The divine promise is that we will be with God and one another eternally. “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:26). “There shall be no more death” (Rev 21:4).
To be Christian is to hope for the life of the world to come. We are to see eternal life as a longed-for inheritance, held in trust for us by a faithful and loving God. That is worth a smile—a smile of gratitude and anticipation!
God of the Living
Our faith, understood correctly, sheds light on the mystery of death, giving us something rich to offer one another in the grief of bereavement. We may also be able to tender help to those who have no clear beliefs and who are trying desperately to grapple with the loss of a loved one. But is our vision true? Yes, because it stands on the reasonable belief that God truly raised Jesus from death for our sakes. Where Jesus now is, we shall be also. (See Jn 14:3.)
The earliest human instinct has always been to retain bonds with those who shared life with us. Our faith justifies this instinct. God is “the God of the living” (Lk 20:38), so in the Christian view there are no dead people, because everyone who dies is brought into eternal life. The sense that the “dead” still exist, somehow, somewhere, is healthy.
Written by Brian Grogan, SJ