Death With Interruptions is a book by Nobel laureate Jose Saramago about a country where death takes a holiday. Starting with the new year, no one dies. (Sick people don’t get better, though, they just don’t expire.)
Saramago takes a satirical yet serious look at the practical problems this hiatus creates. The funeral business goes belly up; pension funds are threatened with bankruptcy; capital punishment is no longer an option. Of particular interest to me is the impact this “crisis” has on the church. A Roman Catholic cardinal observes that,
“(I)f there was no death, there could be no resurrection, and if there was no resurrection, then there would be no point in having a church. Now, since this (death) was clearly the only agricultural implement God possessed with which to plough the roads that would lead to his kingdom, the obvious, irrefutable conclusion is that the entire holy story ends, inevitably, in a cul-de-sac…
“Whether we like it or not, the one justification for the existence of all religion is death; they need death as much as we need bread to eat.”
Do you agree with Saramago’s cardinal? Would the church lose its purpose and power if this life is all there is? No dying would certainly deflate the brand of Christianity that reduces this life to a preamble to the all important next one. However, it wouldn’t make much difference to biblical faith.
The Old Testament says almost nothing about heaven or hell; its blessings and curses are for the here and now. The righteous live on in their prosperous descendants and the wicked are cut off from the people.
In the Gospels, Jesus is more concerned about the kingdom of God being manifested on earth than about a future state. And when the afterlife is mentioned, it’s in relation to rewards or judgment for temporal behavior. It’s not until the epistles that the implications of the resurrection are fleshed out.
Throughout Scripture the focus is on how we are to act in the present. If death did take a holiday, it shouldn’t change our day to day existence.
Is there anything you would do differently today if death were out of the picture?