Review of “Remember Death – Matthew McCullough”
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth. James 4:14 KJV
Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. Psalm 144:4 ESV
Perhaps as you read the Biblical quotes above, you nodded your head in agreement, but at the same time your sub conscious thought “that applies to someone else, not to me”. The point being made is that it is not just what you think about your mortality, but how you live out the reality of your mortality.
While the book is written by an American author and uses examples and statistics from North America, the book content is no less relevant to our own situation. The book seeks to focus the mind on the reality and perspective that death brings in our modern-day Western Society. When the reality of death is far from our minds the promises of Jesus often seem detached from our lives. “The goal in this book is to help us overcome our detachment from death so that we can enjoy a deeper attachment to Jesus”.
Death is a fundamental human experience, uniting all humans across time and space, race and class. Death has a 100% success rate. We live in a time of medical interventions which have raised the life expectancy of all people on the planet dramatically over the last century. This longevity has come with the effect that people live most of their lives as if death is not their problem. Throughout the pages of the Bible, death is a fixation far more common, than in our lives today. For Biblical authors, awareness of death and its implications for life is crucial for a life of wisdom.
The book provides a history of the Victorians fixation with death contrasted to our modern societies fixation with sex and self (narcissism). Death has become invisible, swept away into the alien world of hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Death has become unmentionable. The reality is that consciousness and awareness of death helps us to enjoy the life we currently have. It would be expected that as a rule Christians would have a different outlook on death than society generally, but that appears not to be the case.
Chapter two to the end puts death into the context of our relationship with God through his son Jesus Christ. Unspoken truisms are addressed such as “I am not too important to die – how important am I in God’s universe, what’s the difference between man and animals and why is there this difference? We start to see the hope brought by the Gospel and resurrection. We start to appreciate our worth to God – “the life of the justified person is a life of immense value because it is a life that brings God glory”.
Today’s world, for all the material wealth we all have, often results in a sense of futility and lack of purpose – “The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better while People Feel Worse”. The book of Ecclesiastes is extensively referred to, drawing out the lessons of futility, work, pleasure, wealth, idolatry and the impact of death. The investigation of these idols is followed up by the need for a purpose and how Jesus and his resurrection brings about that purpose.
The stark reality of death is that everyone loses everything; time devours everything we love in the world. The latter part of the book focuses on the reality of Jesus, his defeat of death and the joy he offers that will not be clouded over by sorrow. Extensive references of Johns Gospel and Isaiah illustrate the promises of eternal life. Jesus wants to give us what death cannot touch. Embracing death-awareness is how we strip away a heart-breaking attachment to the things of this world. The Problems of Life and the Promise of Glory are highlighted in considerable depth illustrating that despite our abundance it can add to our sense of dissatisfaction and cloud over our relationship with Jesus.
In conclusion, this is a book suitable for most readers. While based on the title, you may feel it will be a morbid and depressing read this should not be the case. Reading this book will challenge how you live, think and act and question your perspective of eternity. The first part of the book is a relatively easy read, while the latter part is readable but can be deep in meaning. This should not act as a discouragement, as like the Bible, independent of your educational attainment, all persons reading this book will obtain spiritual insight and benefit from its content.
23 September 2020