My buddy Amine texted me in a panic yesterday to tell me about Prince dying. I thought it was a morbid joke (because Amine likes to set me up for his clever bits of comedy). I expected the texts to keep coming — which they did — “God is weeping tears of purple rain. Doves are crying. He is driving his little red corvette in heaven.”
But no, Prince is dead. And with that news another great icon from the 1980s has passed away joining Sir Alan Rickman, David Bowie, and others. While reading the news coverage, I stumbled upon this BBC news commentary piece that asks, “Why are so many celebrities dying in 2016?”
I clicked on the article to discover the type of answer the BBC provided. In a sociologically descriptive manner, the BBC writer sees so many celebrities dying in 2016 because they are aging out. In other words, it is the normal wear and tear of the human life. Those stars who were born in the 50s and 60s, who came to fame in the 80s, are now becoming 60 and 70 years of age and settling into the natural and normal bell curve of the human experience. So, in summary, celebrities are dying because of the math of aging.
I found this to be a cold approach to the question because it failed to address the question people are really asking.
But, why must people die?
In other words, how has science or living well or dieting or technology not helped us to extend or even avoid this process of death and dying? This is the real question that I suspect many people are wrestling with today. In fact, it is what philosophers understand to be one of the four great worldview shaping questions:
- Who am I?
- Where did I come from?
- Where am I going when I die?
- What is the purpose of life?
The last two questions are inextricably linked, for as a person concludes the ultimate absolute truth and reality of death they will also begin to formulate a purpose for living. If there is no afterlife and death means finality then the purpose of life is merely to have as much fun and to try to be as happy as possible, no matter how fleeting happiness is. That is how some people answer the latter two questions. Others agree with the finality of death, but hold that this life’s purpose is to live in harmony with fellow human beings as much as it is possible. Still others hold to the purpose statement that calculates a balance between pursuing the maximum amount of selfish happiness while not trying to harm other human beings. These thinkers may not be aware that their calculations are attempting to construct a moral reality without the consequence of judgement in an afterlife. This is thorny calculus.
Some groups postulate that a form of afterlife does indeed exist and that there will be a moral reckoning of the present life in this afterlife. Almost every prominent world religion, for example, proposes just such a scenario, leaving religious followers to conclude that this life is meant to be one of living a morality tied to a religious code. Christianity, as a preferred example, teaches that God will judge all human beings first by how they responded to the good news of His Son, Jesus and secondarily, by how those who believed in Jesus for salvation lived in obedience to the teachings and commands of Jesus.
Interestingly, Christianity teaches that if you believe in Jesus you will have an abundant life. This abundant life is both in the present life as well as in the eternal life and these two lives are in continuity with one another because of the power of Jesus. It also teaches that living in obedience to Jesus’ commands will bring maximum joy in this life while also maximizing your ability to love all humans around you. In other words, Jesus provides the way for humans to be happy without sacrificing doing good towards fellow mankind. It is the best of both worlds on a temporal and spiritual level.
Which returns us to the question at hand — Why are so many people dying. I think this is a helpful question to consider from time to time, including times like today, for life assessment reasons. If the Bible is not true, then morality is a manmade construct and there is no consequence for living selfishly, other than trying to live in some type of harmony with fellow human beings. If you can make a lot of money, then you can buffer yourself from normal consequences and do whatever makes you happy in a consequence free environment. And when you die, you die. End of the game.
However, if the Bible is true then both this life and the afterlife matter. And, if your aim is to live at harmony with humans while maximizing your own joy in life, then it seems reasonable to consider Jesus and His teachings.