Two statistics in the public domain are, each in their own way, startling. One, the mounting figure of Covid 19 deaths in the UK, now standing at over 45,000. The other, the number of abortions carried out in the UK in 2019 - over 209,000. The former gets daily media attention while the latter is virtually ignored. Why this contrast?
Could it be that our reluctance as a society to have straight conversations about death is one way of understanding this conundrum.
On the one hand, with Covid 19 we are very focussed on saving people from the ravages of this awful illness but at the same time are we perhaps, drifting into a societal mindset which does not face up to the reality of eventual death. A life saved, looked at another way, could be described as a death postponed! The Archbishop of Canterbury commented a few weeks ago that we can make an idol of health. Have we also come to idolise longevity?
Equally, our reluctance to talk about death perhaps means that we do not see the deaths of 209,000 unborn children as deaths at all! In shying away from this we modify our language talking, impersonally, about the ‘embryo’ or the ‘foetus’ instead, more properly, of the embryonic or foetal human being. Undoubtedly this is a complex matter, which cannot be discussed in depth in this short piece. However, perhaps in analysing the complexity we have lost sight of reality of ‘death’ - death comes to all of us through illness, accident and old age; in contrast the death of aborted children who are never given the opportunity to live and grow old. What a contrast with scripture where, in the Psalms, the reality of death is face squarely - (e.g. in Psalm 144 man is encouraged to consider the brevity of life) and where the Psalmist in Psalm 139 recognises the reality of his human existence in the womb. The Apostle Paul faces death head on with his declaration that, for him, to live was Christ but to die was gain.
Martin Bashir, the BBC journalist who famously interviewed the late Princess Diana, touched directly on Covid 19 and the discussion of death in a recent column in The Times. In relation to the pain of death he quotes CS Lewis, ‘God whispers in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience and shouts to us in our pain’. Lewis could look directly at so many examples of Jesus entering into the pain of those experiencing loss and indeed, after hearing of the execution of his cousin John the Baptist, himself felt loss and sought out a solitary place. Bashir notes that ‘our culture is based around the living. We… regard death as the ultimate enemy. That is why it is so often taboo in our conversation with family and friends’. Bashir also points out that Lewis’ notion of death is shaped by his belief as a Christian in the resurrection of Christ and therefore life after death.
So is it time to have a more direct conversation about death? On the one hand the inescapable horror of the death of yet to be born human beings and on the other the hope that is available through the death and resurrection of Jesus to those facing death from illness, trauma or old age. Resurrection is the great sign given by Jesus to his disciples and to the religious leaders of his day. Not only a new physical life, but also renewed physical creation and a brand new society of peace and justice where He is King - what the bible calls ‘eternal life’ to be entered into now and enjoyed in its entirety at the resurrection. With this hope, death really does loss its sting! God’s purposes in Eden will be brought about!
So let us, Christians, campaign for life for the 570 unborn humans being aborted each day in the UK. Let’s not pretend that the death of a human being is not involved. Let us encourage and nurture those agencies, which provide women with crisis pregnancies with an alternative to abortion. Let us call for men to be held to account for their responsibilities for their unplanned children. And for people facing the end of life, let’s not avoid the ‘death’ discussion but open up the opportunities of new life beginning now and carrying on through death to a new resurrection life.
George Nixon. Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article of those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.