Love Is Stronger Than Death by Peter Kreeft

“…life is either totally meaningful or totally meaningless, depending on what death is. Therefore we had better try to find out what death it.” So begins Peter Kreeft in a book that is basically him thinking methodically through the concept of death. He argues that death plays a number of roles to us:

Death as Enemy: it takes, destroys, unmakes.

Death as Stranger: we pretend it doesn’t exist, but ignore it at our peril. Or we attempt to reconcile ourselves collectively to the inevitable.

Death as Friend: “Death is necessary for life as silence is necessary for speech” (45). It frames our lives and gives it finitude, a start and end point. It challenges us to define ourselves within the hard lines it draws. “The realization of our mortality now jolts us into a new appreciation of the now” (45).

What would be valuable, what would be appreciated, if it were not for death? Not time, not love, not anything. The true value of anything in life, and of life itself, is revealed most clearly by its absence, its death; for example: …] God: what difference does make whether there is a God or not? Read the great atheists like Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, Beckett, and Bertrand Russell to find out. The silhouette drawn by God’s absence in such writers is sharper than the one drawn by His presence in most believers.

Death as Mother, and Death as Lover: “For in order to love, we must be individuals; to be individuals, we must know death; therefore, in order to love, we must know death” (90).
Ultimately, Kreeft concludes that we must engage with death, come to terms with it in the context of the truth of Christianity, and that nothing less than the Gospel is at stake. The ancient (pre-Christian) mind accepted death, but fatalistically so; the medieval Christian mind denied death by means of belief in the Resurrection; but the modern mind simply denies or ignores death altogether.

When the Christian church collaborates with a pagan culture by covering up death, it seals its own death warrant. For the whole reason for the church’s existence, its whole message, is a “good news” or gospel about a God who became man in order to solve the problem of death and the problem of sin, which is its root. Whether the story is true or false, it is fundamentally a story about resurrection from death, conquest of death. The resurrection is the heart of every sermon preached by every Christian in the New Testament. For the church to cover up death is for it to cover up the question whose answer is its own meaning. Nothing is more meaningless than an answer without a question. The “good news” of Christianity claims to answer the “bad news” of death. Without the “bad news,” the “good news” sounds like a charming but superfluous fairy tale, a melange of commonplace ethical platitudes inexplicably encumbered with miracles and mythology, an echo of parental imperatives already long known and disobeyed. The “good news” becomes neither good news nor even news. The Sermon on the Mount does not answer the problem of death. The resurrection does. But the answer presupposes the problem, presupposes facing death as an enemy. No wonder teaching that answer without facing the problem strikes the hearer as irrelevant mythology to be ignored as death is ignored. If the question is a stranger, the answer will be a stranger too. (23)

This is a brief but thoughtful reflection on death that’s well worth reading. Here are a couple more quotes that I enjoyed:

What would be valuable, what would be appreciated, if it were not for death? Not time, not love, not anything. The true value of anything in life, and of life itself, is revealed most clearly by its absence, its death; for example: …] God: what difference does make whether there is a God or not? Read the great atheists like Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, Beckett, and Bertrand Russell to find out. The silhouette drawn by God’s absence in such writers is sharper than the one drawn by His presence in most believers.

And:

No choice made before death is made by my completed self as the choosing subject, nor is it a choice of my completed self as chosen object, because while it lives in time, the self is not completed by still in process of completing itself, choice by choice. Until the last second there is always the remote but real possibility of undoing many choices, such as a deathbed repentance or betrayal. Death is the end of all temporal possibilities; death makes me eternally actual. It boils me down, distils me to my essence, rolls me into a ball, and throws me into the eternal game. Life is like a line; each choice is like the next point on that line; death is like the last point on the line, which is the whole line when looked at end-on, from ahead, from eternity. Death is the point of life. Death is my total and unchangeable response to the last and greatest question: Who are you? (92)

Love Is Stronger Than Death by Peter Kreeft Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

 

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