April 2020 Special Article

Introduction

Issues of life and death are among the most fundamental of all human concerns. Since the beginning of recorded history, human life has flourished all over the face of the earth. However, it has also been inevitably marked by the death of every individual member of its species. In traditional societies, life and death are accepted givens of everyday living. However, in modern culture, death has increasingly come to be viewed as an anomaly for which a solution must be found, or if that is not possible, then managed. Charles Taylor has astutely noted that “modern humanism tends to develop a notion of flourishing that has no place for death.” Our contemporary world regards death as the very antithesis of human flourishing and to be resisted at all costs until the final moment. Such resistance may take the form of advocating technological advancements in medical science that not only delays death and prolongs life, but also increases the quality of life that one may enjoy.

Nonetheless, the death of every person remains an inescapable reality, and it is beyond dispute that as an event, it is one of the most shattering ones of all human experiences whether it is for the person or her family and friends who live on. This knowledge of the certainty of death is mingled with fear and apprehension of its coming, one that some scholars have argued comes from genetic programming. Hence, Dale Allison argues that due to man’s innate instincts for survival, fear of death is part and parcel of his being.

For the Christian, it is appropriate to understand the fear of death not just biologically but theologically as well…

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Dr Tan Loe Joo is lecturer in systematic theology at Trinity Theological College.