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首頁 專題 生死學 Ngai Siu Ying: Answers to Death Education from a Christian Perspective
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週四, 16 十二月 2010 00:30

Answers to Death Education from a Christian Perspective

Referee: Dr. Benedict Kwok

Anthor: Ngai Siu Ying

 

1. Introduction

Few people want to talk about death, not to mention about studying about it. May be it is due to the emotional fear of facing the last enemy of man (1 Cor. 5:26) that we can hardly think of it in a rational manner. Although the topic on personal death is disturbing, societies are starting to recognize death , dying, and bereavement as fundamental and significant aspects of human experiences. The need of having an educated knowledge of its meanings is very important so that people are more prepared for their own death and the death of their loved ones.

As medical services and technologies are improving, especially in the more affluent countries, like USA, UK, Canada, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, caring for the aging, dying, and grieving families are given more and more resources. Training of medical staff and caregivers are becoming more specialized in death related caring and counseling. Actually, death education is now not just for the specialists in higher education, but also for the public of different age groups, even for children in primary education.1

The Bible also teaches about life and death, more so, it is eternal life and eternal death. The purpose of this paper is to compare death education and Christianity in their rationales regarding human death and discuss how Christianity helps to resolve the fundamental problems of death anxiety, grieving, and the afterlife.

 

2. The Certainty of Death

Death is universal, across culture and age groups. It will happen to everyone and will strike you or someone around you at anytime and in any circumstances. The Bible says, “Man is destined to die once…” (Heb. 9:27). Since death is an universal, inevitable, and unpredictable event in each person’s life, people have unspeakable fear, a sense of helplessness and sadness about their destiny. I think people are not trying to avoid the topic on purpose, but they just do not know how to face it. This destiny is against their desire. Deep inside their heart, they want to enjoy life; enjoy the loving relationships. The story of “living happily ever after” is not real.

 

3. The Significance of Understanding the Meanings of Death

Death is the sure destiny of man. What else can we do about it? May be the best we could do is to invest time and money to maintain health. Some people will choose to just focus on living in the presence on a day to day basis, thinking that tomorrow will worry about itself. But I think if you know the meanings of death, you know how to live. Denial and avoidance will only increase fear and sadness as death just happens every day. A conscious awareness of death across the life span is necessary to guide us in facing and integrating the certainty of death in our lives, which will enable us to “define values, priorities, and life goals, and move toward a more common sharing of our humanity.”2 I see the significance of knowing this truth, as it will surely affect how I should live this life and care about the destiny of others. Truly, it is death that defines the meanings of life.

 

4. What is Death Education?

Death education or thanatology is an education about death that focuses on the human and emotional aspects of death. Though it may include teaching on the biological aspects of death, teaching about coping with grief is a primary focus. A specialist in this field is referred to as a thanatologist3

The Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), which started as early as 1976, is an international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting excellence in death education, care of the dying, grief counseling and research in thanatology. It provides a home for professionals from diverse backgrounds to advance the body of knowledge and to promote practical applications of research and theory. Based on quality research and theory, the association provides information, support and resources to its multicultural, multidisciplinary membership and, through it, to the public.4

Death Education in Hong Kong is also gaining attention in the last 20 years, especially in view of the raising suicidal rate and mental health problems. The Society for Life and Death Education isa non-profit education and service organization founded by healthcare professionals, lecturers, social workers and religious figures in 2006.  The Society embraces a mission to promote life and death universal education in Hong Kong.  This learning enhances community’s understanding of the concept of living and dying, pondering life with a positive perspective on death, and exploring how the finite human bodies can bring into play boundless values of life.  The knowledge also helps develop a holistic life view and life-and-death wisdom, paving the way for coping with challenges in life.5

We can see from the above definitions and mission statements that death education is aiming at promoting the quality of life through different ways of coping with death related problems. The approach is knowledge based on a variety of disciplinary studies. Right now the focus is mainly on scientific researches on the phenomenological aspects of death to aid the understanding of fear and grieve. Death education only started to gain attention in the early 20th century and is still in the research and development stages. There are a lot of questions waiting to be answered before death education can be effective in serving its purposes. 6 Whether you are secular or religious, these questions and answers are all relevant to you because it is about your future destiny.

 

5. Christian Answers to Death Education

5.1 What is the meanings of death?

Although death education is a newer discipline of study, it did raise up an awareness for the understanding of the phenomena of human death in an universal manner. In most cases, thanatology is studied as a means towards the end of providing palliative care for dying individuals and their families. It works to develop guidelines to ease the process of dying. There are researches on the similarities and differences of various cultures around the world and their manner of dealing with death. However, thanatology does not directly investigate the meanings of death; it only concerned with how people choose the meanings for themselves. For example, faith can inspire comfort, anxiety, and sometimes both, which will likely affect the death fear scales.7 This is regarded as an important area of research in thanatology.

Death education is like sex education, which only provides the facts and knowledge but ignoring the moral issue or truth attached to it.8 The skills and knowledge are to help people to feel comfortable and easy with death and dying. But the truth behind death is not explored.9 Without knowing the truth, there is no real understanding. Without real understanding, the efforts to solve the problems of death fear and grief is superficial. The Bible says “the truth will set you free" (Jn. 8:32 ) and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb. 2:15 ). According to the Bible, we are “destined to die once and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Death and sin is related (Gn. 2:17; Ps. 90:7-11; Rom. 5:12; 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:21; Jas. 1:15) and the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

5.2 Is death natural?

Death education regards death as part of life and is a natural process. The solution is to face it squarely and prepare for it.10 The focus is on how to live this life, and there is no answer for life after death. But according to the Bible, death is not a natural component of life. Death is not natural to mankind but has risen because of our rebellion against God; it is a form of God’s judgment on sinful mankind

(Gn. 2:17). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23). Basically, the most important Christian perspective on the subject of human death and the afterlife is actually the final punishment. Unbelief results in God’s wrath (Jn. 3:36) and that this wrath is eternal (Mt. 25:46). How can we escape the wrath of God? Although the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). And “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12).

5.3 Why we grieve over dying?

Through the lens of grief we can discern many meanings of death, human existence, suffering, the life of the mourner, and love.”11 Death education did unravel the deep longing and desire of man. Grief shows that man desires for a lasting relationship, an everlasting love and an everlasting life, deep down in the soul.12 How can counseling quench the desire for a loving relationship? This could never be satisfied in this world because everything will pass away, only the love of God will satisfy this basic desire. For He is eternal and He is the source of love. "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever" (Is. 40:7-8). Jesus answered the Samaritan woman, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life"( Jn. 4:13-14).

5.4 Why we fear death?

The main target of death education is to understand what causes the death anxiety and find out ways to reduce the fear and grief. But the targets are hard to achieve, no matter how positive you accept death. Death is the result of sin and is God’s punishment. That is why there is a fear inside each person’s heart. Death is an enemy (Rom. 8:34, 38; 1 Cor.15:26) and no one can overcome this enemy, except through Jesus Christ. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”(Jn. 3:16). “There is no fear in love. But prefect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn. 4:18). Grief and fear is a reflection of the lost of love and relationship with God.

5.5 What is the Nature of Man

Is man merely an animal, like a dog ,or a spiritual being, like God? Death education provides no answer. The Christian answer to this question is the duel nature of man - having a physical body and an invisible soul or spirit which survives the death of the body.13 The Hebrew word “Nephesh” (soul) and the Greek word “Ruach” (spirit) demonstrate the biblical teaching about the invisible side of man. Without mentioning the Bible, I think human experiences also confirm this concept. Man was created to live not to die. However, man had fallen into sin, which entailed death and the afterlife. Resurrection is necessary to restore the original creation of man, with a physical body and a soul.14 Everlasting life means an endless quality of life for the righteous to enjoy both on earth and in the afterlife (Jn. 10:10). While believers enjoy everlasting life on earth, they look forward to the bodily resurrection, which will be immortal and incorruptible both in body and in soul. The soul of non-believers will face eternal judgment and separation from God, without bodily resurrection. This is a very horrible destiny for man.

Although death is inevitable, it is not terminal since we are by nature immortal beings (Heb. 9:27) with the provision of God when He first created man in His own image (Gn. 1:27). There is life beyond death, i.e. the resurrection of the body (1 Cor. 15:35-58), the final unity of the human person, a new resurrection body with which God is going to clothe his people at Christ’s appearing (1 Cor. 15:42-44). Surprisingly, for Christians in their journey to search for the meanings of death in the Bible, they discover life, an everlasting life.

5.6 Is there life after death?

If there is an afterlife, where is the place that man goes to? Death education has no answer for this. A word study of the Hebrew word “Sheol” in the Old Testament shows that “Sheol” is the place where the soul or spirit of man goes to at death until resurrection. The Greek word “Hades” is the Greek equivalent for “Sheol”. However, “Gehenna” is the Greek word for hell, a place of future eternal punishment (Rev. 20:13-15). This punishment is conscious and eternal. The concept of final punishment in Scripture invalidates the idea of universalism, which sees everyone will enjoy blessing after death, and annihilationism, in which all wicked will cease to exist.

5.7 Who is qualified to teach death education?

No one single individual can really integrate the knowledge required for this topic because it involves a broad range of knowledge and skills, covering from religion, philosophy, science, and the list goes on.15 Even one has a broad knowledge, he/she has not gone through death to tell everything about death. I trust most people are having their own personal death anxiety, grief and bereavement to overcome. Their personal attitudes toward death, grief and bereavement will likely affect their teaching. Only Jesus who has gone through death and was risen can teach us about death. God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”( Acts 2:24). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-56). Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome this word” (Jn. 16:33).

5.8 Can we communicate with the dead?

The Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) provides an open forum for people to express their feelings and share ways to cope with death related issues. Death education respects different cultural attitudes towards death. It seeks to understand how their attitudes affects the fear scale. They explore which attitude is more helpful in releasing the fear but have no answer whether these attitudes is a reflection of truth or not. You can believe in anything as long as it makes you feel comfortable in facing death. Reincarnation may give you a second chance to lead a better life. Materialism does not believe in judgment after death because death is the end of a person. Annihilationism tells you that the wicked will pass into nonexistence at death or at the resurrection. Universalism teaches that God is so loving and everybody will be saved and God is in every religion. Materialism is actually a reduction of man to an “electrochemical machine”16, destroying the worth and regards of man, and eventually no accountability to God. Annihilationism is based on wrong interpretations of the Bible. Universalism is the idea that all men will eventually enter an eternal state of bliss with no hell or no eternal punishment because God is love, ignoring the justice of God. Regarding occultism, it involves an endless reincarnation and communication with the spirits of the dead. Contemporary occultism evolves into “psychic studies” by such groups as the Society of Psychical Research, under the disguise of para-science.17 Christians should be aware that the practices of consulting dead spirits are condemned in the Bible (Lev. 19:31,1 Chron. 10:13). The sin of consulting mediums or spirits is grave enough to warrant the death penalty (Lev. 20:27).

5.9 How should we life this life?

Death education strives to promote a positive attitude towards death, hoping to enhance the quality of life of those dying and their grieving families. It is also a life education about optimistic life attitudes, respect of life, and support for whoever facing death. The approach is pragmatic and mainly based on human knowledge and mutual support, especially in the palliative care and counseling.

For Christians, there is a new life in Christ – a life of hope in face of death. Faith in Jesus Christ is to share in his death and resurrection (Gal.2:20; Col. 3:1). Believers has already passed through the valley of death with Christ and emerged to a new, eternal life. Only God is eternal and absolute immortal and only through Him can man share this everlasting life. The Lord’s return is our blessed hope (Tit. 2:13) and the living hope (1 Pet. 1:3-5). We are not to “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13-18). Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him (1Thes. 5:10 ). In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom where there will be “no more death, no mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4). There will be new heavens and new earth when the Lord returns.

Knowing our destiny should lead us to actions. We are to lead a life of holiness pleasing to God (2 Pet. 3:13;1 Jn.3:2), render account to him (2 Cor. 5:10), make every effort to be holy (Heb. 12:14) and no need to store up treasure on earth (Mt. 6:19). Christian lives are full of praise, worship and thankfulness, knowing God is our creator and a loving Father in Heaven.

As Christians, we are not just to prepare for our death or the death of our loved ones; we are prepared to meet God anytime with an attitude of watchfulness (Mt. 24:42) and not be absorbed in the affairs of this age like the people of Noah’s day. The Bible says, "therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Mt. 24:4). As a community of God’s people in His eternal kingdom on earth, we strive to love one another. “We love because He first us” (1 Jn. 4:19). It is a loving community with faith and hope.


6. Conclusion

Death education teaches that since death is inevitable, one should learn to accept it and prepare for it. Another way of saying it is to treasure life. The Bible teaches more than this. Believers see that lives are not just for themselves. They can share their lives by serving others in the form of a sacrificial love, as modeled by Jesus Christ.

Death is a reality and God’s wrath is eternal (Mat.25:46). What a horrible destiny for those without salvation. Eternal punishment highlights the urgency to spread the gospel, build the church, and save our neighbors. The only way to escape God’s wrath (Jn. 3:36) is to put our faith in Jesus Christ, who had died on the cross for our sin. The 3 basic truths about man are fundamental in the understanding of the Bible and everything that exists. The story of man and the universe is recorded in Gensis 1 through 3. The truth is man is created in the image of God, the radical fall of man into sin brought about condemnation and death, and God’ s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ is progressively revealed in man’s history. I think this Biblical world view is like a pair of spectacles to help us see our existence and destiny more clearly when new ideologies are confusing our minds, causing fear and uncertainties. This exercise of questions and answers is very helpful in clearing the mysteries and fear of death, confirming our faith in the Bible and strengthening our hope of salvation. Knowing the differences, we can confidently share our beliefs with other non-believers and defend what we believe, hoping this will bring real comfort and hope to them. 18 Skills and research information from death education can be good tools to enhance pastoral involvement in hospice and hospital work to touch the hearts of the sick and dying people and their families with compassion, as long as we know the truth about death and the hope of eternal life.


7. Bibliography

Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie. London, UK: Time Warner, 1997.

Bowker, John Westerdale. The Meanings of Death. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Graham, Billy. Facing Death and The Life After. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987.

Kreeft, Peter. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. New York, USA: Bantam Books, 1961.

Milne, Bruce. Know the Truth – A Handbook of Christian Belief. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Morey, A. Robert. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1984.

陳俊德著。《靈魂面面觀-基督教與文化研究》。台北:台福傳播中心,2003

莫爾特曼著。曾念粵譯。《盼望神學》。香港:道風,2007

Abdel-Khalek, Ahmed M. "Why Do We Fear Death? The Construction and Validation of The Reasons for Death Fear Scale. " Death Studies 26, no. 8 (October 2002): 669-680. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

Attig, Thomas. "Meanings of Death Seen Through the Lens of Grieving. " Death Studies 28, no. 4 (May 2004): 341-360. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

Cicirelli, Victor G. "Personal Meaning of Death in Relation to Fear of Death." Death Studies 22, no. 8 (December 1998): 713-733. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

Cicirelli, Victor G. "Personal Meanings of Death in Older Adults and Young Males in Relation to their Fears of Death." Death Studies 25, no. 8 (December 2001): 663. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

Fortner, Barry V., and Robert A. Neimeyer. "Death Anxiety in Older Adults: A Quantitative Review." Death Studies 23, no. 5 (July 1999): 387-411. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

Pratt, Douglas. "Towards a Theological Metaphysics of Death." Islam & Christian-Muslim Relations 18, no. 3 (July 2007): 391-402. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

Shu, Yang, and Chen Shih-Fen. "Content Analysis of Free-Response Narratives to Personal Meanings of Death among Chinese Children and Adolescents," Death Studies 30, no. 3 (April 2006): 217-241. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

Yang, Shu Ching, and Shih-Fen Chen. "A Phenomenographic Approach to the Meaning of Death: A Chinese Perspective." Death Studies 26, no. 2 (February 2002): 143-175. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

林綺雲。〈死亡教育與輔導 – 批判的觀點 〉。《生死學研究》,創刊號2003 12月。77-92頁。http://mail.nhu.edu.tw/~lifedeath.u.g./d/journal/200501/05.pdf

郭鴻標。〈基督徒如何看安樂死〉。《宣道牧函》,20105月。

郭鴻標。〈生死再思:死裏淘生 - 從基督教不同神學的死亡觀 探討牧養和關顧事工〉《慈聲雙月刊》。20101月。Available from http://www.hospitalchap.org.hk. (assessed July 26, 2010).



1 Yang Shu and Chen Shih-Fen, "Content Analysis of Free-Response Narratives to Personal Meanings of Death among Chinese Children and Adolescents," Death Studies 30, no. 3 (April 2006): 217-241; Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

2  Herman Feifel, Ed., Meanings of Death (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1977), 352-355. Quoted in Thomas Attig, "Meanings of Death Seen Through The Lens of Grieving," Death Studies 28, no. 4 (May 2004): 342; Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 235010).

3  Available from <www.wikipedia.org>.( accessed July10, 2010).

4  Available from <www.adec.org>.( accessed July10, 2010).

5  Available from <www.life-death.org>. (accessed on July 10, 2010).

6 林綺雲。〈死亡教育與輔導 – 批判的觀點 〉。《生死學研究》,創刊號200312月, 79頁。下載自〈http://mail.nhu.edu.tw/~lifedeath.u.g./d/journal/200501/05.pdf (accessed July 10, 2010).

7  Ahmed M. Abdel-Khalek, “Why do we fear death? The construction and validation of the reasons for death fear scale,” Death Studes 26, no. 8 (October 2002): 669-680; Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2010).

8  Dave Hunt & T.A. Mcmahon, “What About Death Education?” Search the Scriptures Daily Available from <www.thebereancall.org>. (accessed July 7, 2010).

9 Thanatology does not directly explore the meaning of life and of death. Medically, this question is irrelevant to those studying it. Some medical texts refer to inquiries of the meaning of life and death as absurd and futile. However, they do realize the question is very relevant to the psychological health of those involved in the dying process: individuals, families, communities, and cultures. Thanatology explores how the question affects those involved, not the question itself. ” Available from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanatologist>. (accessed July 10, 2010).

10  萬物有序,四季有時,海潮有起有落,大自然有枯有榮,世界時刻處於變化之中。在生生不息的循環之間,萬物不斷生長,潤澤天地。人是大自然的一部份,亦得遵循生與死的必然規律。死亡既是一次旅途的終結,同時亦是另一次旅程的開始。對死亡的探究是為了活出更有意義的人生。以死鑑生,生死輝映,人生才是完滿。落紅不是無情物,化作春泥更護花。明白了死亡本是生命的一部份,懂得活出人生真義,擁抱豐盛人生,又何需懼怕死亡?Available from <www.Life-death.org>.( accessed July 10, 2010).

11  Thomas Attig, "Meanings of Death Seen Through the Lens of Grieving," Death Studies 28, no. 4 (May 2004): 342; Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 235010).

12  Ibid., 354.

13  Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1984), 70.

14  Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife , 94.

15 林綺雲。〈死亡教育與輔導 – 批判的觀點 〉。《生死學研究》,創刊號200312月,83

16 Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife , 192.

17 Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife , 258.

18 郭鴻標。〈基督徒如何看安樂死〉《宣道牧函》, 20105月。

 

 
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