Tag Archives: Death

Death: by Karl Barth

Commenting on Romans 5:12 (some paragraph breaks added) –

Death is the supreme law of the world in which we live. Of death we know nothing except that it is denial and corruption, the destroyer and destruction, creatureliness and naturalness. Death is engraved inexorably and indelibly upon our life. It is the supreme tribulation in which we stand. In it the whole riddle of our existence is summarized and focused; and in its inevitability we are reminded of the wrath which hangs over the man of the world and the world of man.

So completely is death the supreme law of this world, that even that which, in this world, points to the overcoming and renewing of this world, takes the form of death. Morality appears only as the denial of the body by the spirit; the dying Socrates is the only fitting emblem of philosophy; progress is no more than a restless negation of the existing natural order. No flame – except the flame of the Lord! (Exod. iii. 2) – can burn without destroying. Even the Christ according to the flesh must die that He be appointed the Son of God (Rom. i. 3, 4).

We too must pass through death, if we are to render unto God the honour due to Him. We have to learn that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We would like to turn our backs on all this, if we could. We would like to protest against death in the name of life, if it were not that the protest of death against our life is far more venerable, far more significant. We try to bury out of sight the suspicions and reservations which accompany every unbroken affirmation we make, and to protect our eyes against the grey light of the final negation which is preceded by a whole host of preliminary negations. But we are unable to persist long in our attempt; for it is all too evident that the grey light does not proceed from our caprice, but has a primary origin. It envelops our whole life (Rom. i. 10), for there is no vital and creative human action which is not born in pain and revolution and death.

We are powerless; we are lost. Death is the supreme law of our life. We can say no more than that if there be salvation, it must be salvation from death; if there be a ‘Yes’, it must be such a ‘Yes’ as will dissolve this last and final ‘No’; if there be a way of escape, it must pass through this terrible barrier by which we are confronted.

From The Epistle to the Romans.

One minute’s silence

At this morning’s ANZAC dawn service in Albury, and undoubtedly in many other places, we peacefully observed a minute’s silence. It’s a sign of respect, and so simple that’s its power remains.
Albury Military Cemetery
The death of a soldier seems, so often, needless. Perhaps the battle was a failure (as for the ANZAC side of Gallipoli). Perhaps the death in service was far from any battle (as for a number buried in Albury’s military cemetery who died in a level-crossing accident). And even if the battle was decisive, loved ones still ask, ‘Why him?’

The minute of silence, at first blush, looks the same – near useless. What, just a minute? And all we do is, well, nothing? How can that honour the dead?

But the deeper we go into that brief minute, the more profound it becomes. We realise we are doing nothing because there is nothing that we can do to adequately mourn a death – the lives and deaths we remember were indeed great, after all.

And we discover that one minute is not a desultory gift. We find this minute to be but one example of time, and all time is now marked by the death of those service personnel. It is not a minute different from the rest of time, but a minute to show how all time is now different.

Finally, a minute to think also allows us to ask: Would we put ourselves in such a position of danger? We wonder what reasons could move us to risk all in the same way (if we are not already in such a position). For me, at least, I realise how significant was the life of all who freely took on such risk.

I tend not to make comparative links between defence deaths and Jesus’ death for our sins, and will not make that comparison here. Instead, I think the minute of observed silence makes a different comparison: it compares human to human, uniting us as those who face our common enemy, the grave.

At its most potent, the minute’s silence is a minute’s humanity.




On losing a child

Tender words and comfort from John Donne. Written to his sister in 1629 after the death of her son.

We do but borrow our children of God, to lend them to the world. And when I lend the world a daughter in marriage, or lend the world a son in profession, the world does not always pay me well again: my hopes are not always answered in that daughter or that son.  But of all that I lend to, the grave is my best paymaster. The grave shall restore me my child where he and I shall have but one Father, and pay me my earth when that earth shall be amber, a sweet perfume, in the nostrils of his and my Saviour.



Sin, law & death in Romans 7

Romans 7 is astoundingly moving. Paul speaks of an awful internal conflict: loving right while doing wrong.

Romans 7 is also a bit tricky. Exactly who is the person feeling this internal conflict? Is it a Christian? Perhaps it’s a Jewish person who loves the law but does not yet trust Jesus. Or someone else altogether.

I’m not trying to solve that here! I want to make a smaller observation – knowing that getting the details clear will help us eventually answer the bigger questions.

My observation is this: in Romans 7, Paul is at pains to honour the goodness of God and God’s law.

It’s clear there’s a relation between God’s law, and sin in us, and death. But what kind of relationship? If we err in answering this question, the mistake will lead us into danger. I believe avoiding serious error is part of Paul’s concern in this chapter.

Hence, Paul excludes: he rules out two wrong relationships in these three terms. Check out his questions.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! (v.7)

Did that which is good [the law], then, become death to me? By no means! (v.13)

We cannot say that God’s law is sin.

There is a link between sin and law. It’s a relationship not easy to put into words. In Romans 8:3, Paul speaks of the law as ‘weakened’ by the flesh. From 7:7, we could say that sin is ‘enlivened’ by the law. But whatever we say, we never have reason to say the good law from God is sin.

Likewise, we cannot say that God’s law becomes death.

Death is not the overflow of God’s law. Death is the overflow of sin. As with Adam, it’s sin that leads to the judgement of death (see Rom 5:12-14).

The law of God is good. And when we learn this law – which is important for every Christian – we have Paul’s example of right thinking. We are to steer clear of assigning evil and death to God, or to his good gift. Instead we remember:

So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.