Richard is a philosophy undergraduate student with ambition toward a career in jurisprudence. He likes banter and debating but can be impatient and at times unsympathetic to the questions of God. Sundar is a student in electrical engineering with hopes of working in the field of wireless communications. Both young men enjoy each others company and discussion even though one is an atheist and the other a committed follower of Jesus and the Christian way.
Death and Eternity?
Richard: He’s dead
Sundar: What, who? What are you talking about? Are you OK?
Richard: No, I’m really not OK…he’s dead, my Dad died yesterday and I just got word from my brother. Nobody saw it coming, he’s just gone.
Sundar: I’m so sorry man. Can I do anything for you and your family.
Richard: I don’t even know Sundar – I wasn’t ready for this. He was only forty-eight years old. I thought we would have more time. I didn’t think this would happen so soon.
Sundar: yeah, I guess [Richard interrupts him]
Richard: Why does it hit me like this? Why is death so disturbing to us? I mean, it is the most normal thing on earth. Every single one of us will die at some point. Yet it doesn’t seem right. Why don’t we expect it? It should be the most normal thing ever, but I hate this. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him. I didn’t even get to tell him how pissed I was at him. I didn’t get to…[expletive] - I don’t know. [heavy exhale] This just sucks man, what do I do with this!?
Sundar: I don’t know Richard – I’m just glad you are talking about it. I really want to be here for you man, help you make any arrangements you need, just do whatever. I hate it too.
Richard: It’s like all of sudden everything just crashes down and it’s gone. Everything we work for, everything we think is important, everything we think makes life meaningful is just gone, gone in a moment. We are so helpless to it.
Sundar: Do you mind me asking what happened?
Richard: [speaking quickly] He had a massive heart attack and died in his office. Nobody even knew for like six hours – he was by himself – and they just found him there. [long pause] I wish someone could have been there…I wonder if he was afraid.
Sundar: Man, hard to even think about what that must have been like.
Richard: I wonder if his tough guy, I don’t need anyone but God shtick was going through his head. I never believed that mess but it sure seemed he did. I never believed it. I always thought we would have it out big and really understand each other. I really didn’t hate the guy – that was my own front. I really just didn’t get why he was that way – why he didn’t want to know me. [gets choked up] – ah this is stupid man, I just don’t know what to think. Just feeling it all too much.
Sundar: You wanna get drunk? [awkward silence]
Richard: Do you mean that? [Richard starts to laugh] Are you messing with me?
Sundar: Sorry, I just wanted to lighten things a bit. No we don’t need to get drunk – that would not be good right about now but I thought it might have crossed your mind. [laugh together]
Richard: Has anyone close to you ever died?
Sundar: Yeah, my grandparents. But they were older so it was sort of expected.
Richard: I think that is why this is hitting me so hard – totally not expected. I don’t know why we don’t think about this stuff more. I mean, do we know when we will die? I think we would live differently if we knew we just had a few more weeks or something.
Sundar: Yeah, I don’t think I think about dying enough. It is easy just to fill life with work, jobs, having fun, going through life. Sometimes I think as if I have all the time in the world and none of us really knows when our days will be up. I think we would use our time with more wisdom if we knew we soon would tap out of this world.
Richard: I know I would have had that big shake down with my Dad. Now, it’s too late now I guess.
Sundar: Who knows man, maybe you’ll get another shot to see him. It is at least possible.
Richard: Remember, I’m going to hell [sarcastically].
Sundar: I don’t think this is the right time Richard.
Richard: No, No. What better time is there? [slightly miffed] You think my Dad is with Jesus now and probably want me to go there. I think death is the end. Click. You are out. Ball game. Game over.
Sundar: Well, I hope not. I think your reaction to all this should tell you something. Death is not a good thing man. It isn’t just nature’s way of taking out the trash. It is devastating, real and an enemy to life. You said it yourself a few minutes ago “death should be the most normal thing.” But it isn’t – we know it is not. It feels bad because it is bad.
Richard: I know that nobody can live forever. I understand that Sundar. What bugs me is that it seems to wreck everything and feels so bad. I just wish I didn’t have to experience this. Why is it?
Sundar: Because death is a part of the brokenness of our world. We were not meant for it – so we feel it that way as well. You ever see a baby born?
Richard: No, not yet.
Sundar: It is one of the craziest things to see. I watched the video of my aunt’s kid being born and the joy, natural joy was just crazy.
Richard: You watched that?
Sundar: Not the details man. But Mom weeping for joy, holding the baby for the first time, my uncle acting like an idiot behind the camera. We see the flip side of this when we encounter death. It’s like everything comes crashing down.
Richard: Life and death – are you saying they are two sides of the same coin?
Sundar: No, that is precisely what I’m not saying…some of my relatives might say that. What I am saying is that we know that death is a problem, not simply “the other side of the coin.” I’m saying death feels bad because it IS BAD.
Richard: I agree man.
Sundar: After my baby cousin was born, he had a lot of complications. Couldn’t breathe on his own, couldn’t digest food and turned all yellow. They had to put him in neonatal intensive care unit. I remember going in there to see him and being overwhelmed with the beauty and fragility of life. I also had the odd feeling that all the kids in the NICU may not make it. It was like a small picture of what life is really like – fragile, beautiful and needing help. I’ll never forget it. In there, things were a lot clearer. Life and death were real and had to be considered. I think people probably thought a lot more about God in there. Have you ever read that book in the Bible I asked you to read?
Richard: A little of it – Ecclesiastes right?
Sundar: Yeah, can I read something out of that?
Richard: Sure, I actually wouldn’t mind at all.
Sundar: [finds a passage on his smartphone] A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity.
Richard: where is that? Sundar: Ecclesiastes 7
Richard: So is that saying that dying is better than birth? Sounds like you were positive on birth a minute ago.
Sundar: This isn’t talking about our experience but about the soul being open to learning. That you learn more about wisdom and meaning in life at a funeral than giggling life away like a fool…that we need to face the emptiness, the shortness, the ridiculous ways we waste away our lives not realizing we are all heading towards the grave. It is telling us to really face the coming of our own death in some way before it overtakes us.
Richard: I hear you – I know I was not ready for this. So this would be “the house of mourning” and Jersey Shore would be the “house of mirth”.
Sundar: Something like that. I don’t want to press you on anything now Richard – your family needs you, there is probably a lot of things you need to tend to.
Richard: Well, I’m in the house of mourning so I might as well learn something. I want you to tell me what you think about death, life and if anything is ahead of us after this world. I know I said I don’t believe in an afterlife but I sort of wish there was something. Reincarnation, heaven, nirvana or something. I mean it is a nice thought to think of seeing loved ones again.
Sundar: To be honest those are really different ideas. Reincarnation means your soul migrates into other existences and nirvana would be the freeing of oneself from the cycle of suffering, reaching full enlightenment and escaping the trap of reincarnation. These are not ideas about YOU being YOU after your death. Seeing your loved ones again would not quite be part of those ideas. The idea of heaven though is different. That would have to do with you living again as you.
Richard: Yeah, I heard about that in Catholic school – where you float in the clouds with angels or something like a ghost right.
Sundar: Uh, not exactly. That sounds weird. What Jesus taught was actually about the defeat of death itself and being resurrected from the dead.
Richard: Where did he teach that?
Sundar: To some friends in the “house of mourning” – we actually see what Jesus said and did at the funeral of a good friend named Lazarus in the New Testament book of John.
Richard: He gave the funeral speech?
Sundar: Not exactly, he interacted with some people who were hurting because of death. They were feeling the pain of it and in confusion were asking Jesus some questions. They wondered why he didn’t help.
Richard: Yeah, I do wonder why God doesn’t help. Why he doesn’t just get rid of death and suffering. It sucks you know. He ought to know that too.
Sundar: Indeed. I think he does. Jesus does a few things when his friend died. He wept with the people – God does really care. He taught them through some hard questions – he wanted them to know the truth about death. He raised a man from the dead – he wanted to show us what the future could be. [a long silence from both men]
Richard: Well, what did he say, what were the questions he asked?
Sundar: [reading again] Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Sundar: So Jesus wants us to trust him, believe him in the face of death. Afterall, he is the one who died and came back again to speak of it. He promises resurrection and life to all who believe. So his question was simple “Do you believe this?” His followers are certain that death itself has been defeated and they do not fear it any longer. They do not fear God’s just judgment, nor do they fear their current bodies passing away.
Richard: You always come back to Jesus.
Sundar: I don’t know of anyone else I would turn to when looking at the face of death.
Richard: Why does Jesus get so lost in all the religious mumbo jumbo?
Sundar: I don’t know man… [Richard’s phone rings]
Richard: Hi Mom, yeah, I’m doing OK…lots to think about. I have my flight booked…yes, I know. I know. Love you too.