Sunday, October 21, 2012

Death and the believer

Lots of atheists seem to be certain, recently, that this ought not to be a problem for believers, because – curl of lip – we all believe we’re going to be whisked away to a magic kingdom in the sky instead. Facing the prospect of annihilation squarely is the exclusive achievement of – preen – the brave unbeliever. But I don’t know many actual Christians (as opposed to the conjectural idiots of atheist fantasy) who feel this way, or anything like it. Death’s reality is a given of human experience, for anyone old enough to have shaken off adolescent delusions of immortality. There it is, the black water, not to be cancelled by declarations, by storytelling, of any kind. Whatever sense belief makes of death, it has to incorporate its self-evident reality, not deny it. And again, in my experience, belief makes the problem harder, not easier. Because there death is, real for us as it is for everyone else, and yet (as with every other outrage of the cruel world) we also have to fit it together somehow with the intermittently felt, constantly transmitted assurance that we are loved. I don’t mean to suggest that all believers are in a state of continual anguish about this, but it is a very rare believer who has not had to come to a reckoning with the contradiction involved. On the one hand, the cruel world – the world made cruel by seeing it as created – and on the other one, the sensation of being cherished by its creator.

From Unapologetic, by Francis Spufford. 
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