This week saw the death of Tommy Burns one of the coaches of Celtic football club. He was a comparatively young 51 years. He seems to have been a genuinely decent bloke and his death touched not only his family but those involved in Scottish football. I read with interest one of the comments on his death by the BBC Scotland football correspondent Chick Young. Young wrote, ‘The good Lord hasn’t really got the hang of this. He really shouldn’t keep taking all the good guys. Poor Tommy. Snatched from us ridiculously early. It is scandalously unfair, this evil business of cancer.’ It reminded me of the obituaries that can often be read in the local newspapers. They run something like, ‘Jimmy you were one of the best because God only takes the best.’
What does this type of thinking say about us? On one level it shows that we are often hopelessly sentimental in the face of death. It also shows that despite declining church attendance in the UK we are a nation where ‘Christian’ folk religion is still very evident. (The comment that we believe in justification by death comes to mind.) It also reminds us that in a culture that scorns religion we still look to God for both answers and comfort in the face of death. The really sad corollary of this is that most people don’t look too hard. And they settle either for the suggestion that God is to blame and they have been robbed. Or for the comfort that their loved one is in the heaven they had no interest in whilst alive.
Above all they reflect a culture which largely denies death. Death in inevitable but only at a distance. Any death short of three score years and ten (plus another 20) is viewed as a savage act. Most people, according to one writer, envisage death in their early nineties after two sets of tennis, a good lunch and having made love to their partner. Then they will painlessly slip away. But death is no respecter of persons or age or our designs. Instead it is the great certainty for which we must be prepared. And it is in seeing death as that which Jesus has conquered in his death and resurrection that we come to realise that to be with Christ is no loss. Instead it is better by far.