What Can You Say?
PERHAPS you have a friend whose wife is dying of cancer. What can you say to comfort him? A young boy may be in great grief because his father has just died. You desire with all your heart to give comfort. Do you feel helpless? Or can you give the boy a real hope?
To give genuine comfort that really helps a bereaved one, you yourself must have a solidly based hope. You need factual, concrete answers to the questions that arise about death, for only the truth gives genuine comfort.
You need to know, first, the answer to the question, Where are the dead? You need answers to other questions too. Are those who have died now in heaven? Are they undergoing some sort of suffering? Are they in some shady world? Or are they actually dead? If so, are they gone forever? Is it logical that a person may live forty years or so, get a fine education, equip himself to accomplish something worth while in this world, then die? What a shame! What a waste!
What might you tell a sorrowing one? Should you say that death is an escape from an undesirable existence—that therefore the dead person is better off? This is of little comfort to the bereaved one. To answer correctly, a person must have a proper evaluation of life and know whether death is a friend or an enemy of mankind.
Life a Valuable Possession
In comforting bereaved ones a person must also realize that, generally, death is a mystery to them. One thing usually stands out: They are reluctant to accept death as ending it all. Should we regard this as unnatural, as a foolish, impractical attitude? No, it actually indicates normal, healthy thinking. King Solomon of old, who had riches and opportunity to seek life’s desirable ‘things and to observe all things occurring to humankind, good and bad, concluded: “A live dog is better off than a dead lion.”—Eccl. 9:4.
Life is indeed valuable! Without it we have nothing. People naturally and rightly cling to life. The ancient Oriental man Job hopefully asked, 3,500 years ago: “Once a man is dead can he come back to life?” (Job 14:14, Jerusalem Bible) Life has many appealing facets, and though bad circumstances, poor health or other factors may bar a person from some activities, there are always other avenues that can provide a happy, satisfying life.
An example of what life can mean, even when a person can use only a limited part of normal human faculties, is found in the story of Helen Keller. She was less than two years old when an illness destroyed both her sight and her hearing. Cut off from the outside world! For the following five years, as she later said, she grew up “wild and unruly, giggling and chuckling to express pleasure; kicking, scratching, uttering the choked screams of the deaf-mute to indicate the opposite.”
Then her father arranged for a teacher, a Miss Anne Sullivan, from the Perkins Institute for the Blind, in Boston. This dedicated young woman devised a sort of alphabet, spelling out words on Helen’s hand. Soon Helen learned to connect words with objects and in three years could read Braille and write with a special typewriter. She graduated with honors from Radcliffe College in 1904, being accompanied in her classes by Miss Sullivan, who interpreted class discussions and lectures by touch.
Miss Keller then undertook, with great vigor, the work of helping the blind and deaf-blind. She gave lectures, appeared before legislatures, visited hospitals and wrote several books, bringing courage to thousands. Her desire to help the handicapped gave her a purpose and made her life well worth living. She lived to be nearly eighty-eight years of age. Certainly Miss Keller did not feel that she would have been better off had she died while young.
Helen Keller and thousands of others who use their lives well contradict the idea that death is a “friend.” Nearly everyone does all he can to stay alive even when death is certain. Additionally, most people have a fear of death. This is fear, not only on the part of the individual who may die, but also on the part of his family and friends. Even doctors and nurses, who attend those who are dying experience fear. Commenting on this, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross says:
“Seventy-five per cent of our population dies in institutions where they are surrounded by staff who usually want to avoid their problems and get away from them as quickly as possible. And this is because all of us have such an overwhelming fear of death.
“Whatever we may intellectualize this fear as, what it really amounts to is the fear of a catastrophic destructive force bearing down on us and there is nothing we can do about it.”
It is clear that the Bible reveals death, along with old age, to be an enemy. (1 Cor. 15:26) The fear of death has held people in bondage. For fear of death—by starvation, for example—people have become thieves and cannibals. Some have been induced to commit wrongs to avoid being killed. Some have been forced to do things against their will because of threats that their relatives living in a dictatorial land would be killed.—Heb. 2:15.
But what if death could be eliminated? Would this make life dull, monotonous? Who has ever said: ‘I feel so well today I wish I could die’? Is it not true that there are so many good and enjoyable things to do that a lifetime is not long enough to do them, even if a person lived forever?
The Bible says that “time indefinite [God] has put in [mankind’s] heart.” (Eccl. 3:11) Man can envision and plan for the future. Too, there is always a hope that some way will be found to abolish death. Would a loving Creator put such emotions into his intelligent creatures with no hope of fulfillment? This does not seem reasonable. Furthermore, if there is hope for the abolition of death, it is also logical that the Creator would inform people of his purpose to fulfill that hope. But before considering this matter, let us see what death is, and how and why it came about.