"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Death – the Unbidden Guest – a Friend or an Enemy?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Death – the Unbidden Guest – a Friend or an Enemy?

Death is rarely talked about in the modern western society, but it’s still something we all have in common. This makes one wonder what it is that has made people so alienated from it… What do you think? Cemeteries and dead people are considered something scary. However, if I compare Laestadians and other people, it seems to me like Laestadians typically have a healthier attitude. In this part of the world many people don’t even want to open the coffin of their loved ones, while Laestadians typically do that before the funeral (but they shut it again for the funeral, here it is only the Orthodox that keep the coffin open throughout the funeral). Well, actually I wasn’t going to start a thread about funeral customs. I was more interested to hear your thoughts about death as such. Do you think about it, and what do you feel about it? Has your attitude changed over time? Any difference OALC vs. ex-OALC?


  1. I remember once sitting at a coffee table with some Laestadians when a Laestadian woman criticized non-Laestadians of using the phrase ”death came as a friend” in obituaries. She said she had always thought of death as the last enemy. I didn’t quite accept the idea because I felt such an attitude to death was a sign of an unhealthy relationship with God. I don’t know what she really meant but after I delved more into the teachings of the Orthodox church I came to realize that death really is an enemy, but it is a defeated enemy. Man was created to live forever but became mortal because of sin. Death is unnatural because it separates the body and the soul which were originally meant to remain united. From this point of view death really is an enemy. But God became man in Christ and conquered death. St. John Chrysostom (AD 296-373) says in his paschal sermon: “Let no one fear death, For the Saviour's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. ---. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen. O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?”.

    So, I guess it’s both an enemy and a friend? The fact that it is unnatural makes it feel unpleasant, but the fact that it is annihilated by Christ takes away the fear. One thing that I’m sure about is that death is a great mystery. We cannot fully comprehend it until we experience it because it’s a one-time event for all of us, just like being borne to the world.

    According to the Orthodox belief, when we die the soul (or maybe more accurately “spirit and soul”) is separated from the body and taken to the “other side” where the souls get a foretaste of the coming judgment depending on what they were on “this side”. The blessed ones are taken to the bosom of Abraham and the ones who have rejected God are taken to the kingdom of death where they get a foretaste of what it will be to be separated from God in eternity. The souls will be able to follow what’s going on “this side” and they will be able to remember and pray as they are waiting for the resurrection and the reunion with their bodies - and for the last judgment.

  2. I found some interesting quotes from early Christian writers about death:

    St. John of Karpathos

    “When the soul departs from the body, the enemy will attack it, fiercely reviling it, accusing it of its sins in a harsh and frightening manner. But a soul that loves God and believes in Him will not be frightened by the attacks and the threats of the enemies, even if it has often been wounded by sin, but it is strong in the Lord. The joy will give it wings, and it will get courage from the holy powers that protect it. It will be surrounded by the light of faith, and from its shelter it will yell at the wicked devil: "What do you have to do with us, you bad servant, which has been separated from God and thrown away from the heaven? You don’t have any power over us. Christ, the Son of God, is our Ruler and the Ruler of all. Against Him we have sinned and to Him we will reckon. As a token of His saving grace we have His glorious cross. You mean one run far away from us. You don’t have anything to do with the servants of Christ". As the soul courageously speaks like this, Satan turns around and flees crying and moaning because it cannot resist the name of Christ. Thus, the soul ascends higher and higher, trampling the enemy and spanking it like an eagle teaching a lesson to a crow. After this it will enter eternal joy as God’s angels take to the place it belongs to according to its condition.”

    St. Ignatios of Antioch (AD 30-107)

    "Lord taught that - the souls not only continue their existence, not moving from a body to another, but maintaining the same shape (in a separated state) as the bodies they hade been adapted to, and remembering the works of this existence (on earth), which they now have left, - in the recorded tale about the rich man and Lazarus who found peace in the bosom of Abraham”

    "And the ones who remain in their love to God He allows to come to Him. But the life in unity with God is life and light, enjoying all His good things. But for as many, by their own choice, it will be separation from God. He himself causes this separation from God, which they have chosen by their own free will. But the separation from God is death, and the separation from light is darkness; and the separation from God means separation from all His good things. Therefore, all the ones who throw away all these things because of rejection, remaining without anything good, will experience all kinds of punishment. However, they will not really be punished by God, but the punishment comes from the fact that they are without all the mentioned goodness. Now, as all goodness is eternal and unending in God, therefore also the loss of these things is eternal and unending. This will be like when one is blinded by a spotlight; the ones who have caused their own blindness or whose blindness has been caused by others will never be able to enjoy the light. However, it is not like the light had caused the punishment of blindness in them but the blindness itself has brought them to failure: and therefore Lord has proclaimed: "The one who believes in me will not be condemned", in other words, he will not be separated from God because we is united with God through faith. On the other hand He says: "The one who does not believe is already condemned because he did not believe in the name of God’s onlybegotten Son"; i.e. he separated himself from God by his own will. "Because this is the judgment that light has come to this world, and the people loved the darkness more than the light. Because everyone who does evil works hates the light, and does not come to the light so that his works would not be rebuked. But the one who knows the truth comes to the light to that his works would become visible, that he has done them in God".

  3. Great topic, Theoforos.

    One of my earliest memories is a funeral in the Minneapolis OALC (in the 1960's). In my mind's eye I can still see a big black "baby buggy" (as it looked to me then) and people weeping. I was terrified.

    Probably due to OALC emphasis on sin, I often prayed as a child that God would take me home. If this life was going to be one of constant temptation and trial, it seemed best to get to heaven quickly. I fantasized about dying in an accidental fire. I was certain that my family would love me better in death than they did in life. And the thought did not trouble me . . . quite the contrary. I felt corrupted and corruptible; I longed to be pure.

    At 6 or 7, I told my mother that I couldn't wait to die so I could go to Heaven. She asked why, and I said that P, my older sister, had told me the streets were paved with gold, to which she responded, quite rationally, that P. had never been there, and didn't know what she was talking about!

    A psychologist, had I seen one, would certainly have diagnosed me with depression.

    The idea that life is a vale of tears -- that one must endure before the bliss of Heaven -- is, in my view, a perversion of Christianity and one I am glad to have moved beyond.

    Jesus said he came so that we might live life abundantly, here and now. Here and now, we can experience the bliss of Heaven. Eternity does not "begin" at the grave. We are in it.

    Oddly, I did not learn that in any church. It was Buddhism that illumined these concepts. It was studying detachment (from the ego) that gave me a profound glimpse of what it means to die unto sin and be born again in the Spirit, to lose one's life to find it.

    It is more fitting, in my view, to consider death neither as foe nor friend, but as transition.

  4. Forgive me for hogging the thread, but all day I've been thinking about a memorable dream I had eight years ago while waiting to deliver our first child by emergency C-section. I was drifting in and out on waves of morphine, waking long enough to murmur nonsequiturs to my anxious husband. At one point in my dream, I had "left life" and was gazing in "from beyond," observing the earth, with people walking, talking, driving, in perfect clarity, all at once, and I "knew" suddenly that time is an illusion and earthly existence the "thoughts of the universe." When I awoke, I apparently told my husband: "Life is an illusion! Remind me when I wake up" and drifted off again.

    Drug-induced euphoria? A glimpse of the Divine?! Whatever the case, it was an utterly joyful experience.

    And within the hour, I was holding our tiny son, most definitely not an illusion!

  5. This statement by Huston Smith seems apposite.

    I'm nearing 80, and I find myself more optimistic than I've ever been on this subject (the relationship of science to religion). In science, for example, physics is already out of the tunnel constructed by Enlightenment thinking. Newtonian physics worked very much at cross-purposes with the Spirit, which is beyond matter, space, and time. Of contemporary physics, Henry Stapp, a world-class physicist at Berkeley, said that "everything we know about nature is in accord with the idea that the fundamental process of nature lies outside space-time."

    "Religion, for its part, says that God, who is the source of it all, is outside nature. Now, don't quote me as saying Henry Stapp says that God exists! He didn't say that at all. Besides, he has no competence to talk about that as a physicist, because physics can't deal with quality or consciousness. Nevertheless, for him to say that the fundamental process of nature is immaterial opens the door for a meeting of physics and faith. Both are speaking the same language in their own domain.

  6. Free, I loved your dream. On many occasions I, too, have felt that time is an illusion. A few days ago I had a dream about flying, the first of its kind I ever remember having. Like you, it was SUCH a joyful experience! Defying gravity, soaring and dipping and turning at will. It didn't have any significance that I can think of, but just the dream experience was enough. Thanks for sharing your dream.

  7. Speaking of time as an illusion; being with someone at death (like at birth, which I have the privilege of witnessing more often) gives you a different perspective.

    How is it that minutes
    can take hours to pass,
    and yet those very hours fly by.
    Then the death, the birth,
    the transition into new life
    And the minutes are only seconds long.
    While we sit
    in awe,
    or in grief.
    Absorbing the knowledge,
    Transfixed with emotion;
    For us time has stilled;
    The clocks stopped.
    But then
    we come to
    and see
    No, time is still in motion.

  8. Interesting... I can't say I ever wanted to die because I didn't want to live, but being an immensely curious person, I remember having wanted to die just to find out what's on the other side. :) On the other hand, the thought of dying young always frightened me because I detest strong emotions and didn't want people to feel sorry for me, weeping and crying.

    I don't think I'd say time is an illusion, but that thought is not far from me either. Time is a creation, and God is not bound to time. Eternity is not a very long time, but rather it's timelessness. For some reason I think time is somehow connected to material things and anything spiritual is less connected to time or not connected to time at all.

    I think your definition of death as a 'transition' is a good one.

    Some Orthodox monk said that death is like walking through a door that is already open.

  9. When I was in OALC death was terrifying to me yet I longed to be saved. I was never quite sure if I could "make it." I thought if I was listening to music, watching a movie, wearing pants in town, etc. when I died I would go to hell. It scared me the poop out of me! Now, I guess I dont worry about it. I just long to go home, in due time.

  10. My wife and I went to see Body Worlds by Dr. Gunther von Hagens. It is an amazing exhibit of plastinized Human bodies. A true education in how our bodies function and age. His opinion is that death is a very natural event while life itself is completely out of the ordinary and unnatural. Not sure how this fits but it is just a little different way to think of death.

  11. Lets read what old Simeon says to us...

    2:29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
    2:30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
    2:31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

    I hope my departure in that unknown day would be like old Simeons.

    H. Finn

  12. Free, my heart goes out to that little girl who thought she could finally get love by dying. I wonder if it's only those of us who have left who feel that loss of love. Is that a reason we separated from OALC? We saw the definition of love twisted into unrecognizable shapes. It has been a long, difficult road for me to learn that Love is not conditional on my actions and behavior.

  13. "I wonder if it's only those of us who have left who feel that loss of love. Is that a reason we separated from OALC?"

    Sisu, I feel these your questions are important to talk about. Please start a new topic for this question.

  14. LLLreader sez: I remember the first funeral I attended outside the OALC. The minister used the phrase "Oh, death, where is thy sting"--talking about the death as being a release for the soul to leave the sick body and enter heaven. He talked about the sadness the family felt, but also talked about the relief they felt for the end of physical suffering for the deceased, and the knowledge they had that she loved the Lord and had lived her life as a Christian. He talked about the women's life and family and how they had loved and supported each other and that they knew they would see each other again. It was a loving and supportive message--and was a real shock to me! I was used to OALC services--with it's message--let this death be a warning to you!!!

  15. Anonymous said "Let this death be a warning to you" I can totally relate to that statement. As a child I attended more than a childs fair share of funerals. The warning to the living was that you better watch yourself and your actions. I grew up to be a anxious young woman who couldnt get through a church service without having a panic attack. Once the rejoicing started, I would bolt out the door. I was then safe, but so ashamed because I could not control this problem -and shurly God found no favor in a freak like me. My fear of dying-as I see now, was caused by internalizing the negative messages that were distorted (or maybe I distorted them!) I dont know that I have ever had a relationship with God.
    He wasnt in that little Finnish church-to me, only horror, fear, and self-rightiousness were. What would that feel like? To know God?I have to believe that the real God is
    approachable and that I myself can go to him for my souls salvation-not through the church or another "Believer"
    Since leaving the church 8 years ago, I often am overcome with the thought that maybe I have made the biggest mistake of my life by leaving. I have the irrational fear that if I, my husband, or one of my children were to die,what would we do about a church, or a funeral service. Could I stand the judjement from my extended family?

    I too, am drawn to buddism. The loving kindness approach to life fits better into my consciounce than feeling superior,special,and judgemental to the the rest of humanity.
    Can I get to heaven by loving other people and offering my natural talent of compassion to assist them in their struggles. _ a shoulder to cry on? an honest conversation? an ear to listen? Can I get there by treating the world with respect and awe? Is God done with me becuase I left the church I grew up in? Can I believe differently and still get to heaven? Is it ok if I disapponted my mother by leaving the church? (she doesnt understand that it wasnt about her-it was my decision. Now she just frets because I will be going to hell)
    Does it count if I can feel his presence in a an intervention to save my brother ( a church member) from committing suicide. If I can feel Gods presence when I stand at the shore of lake superior? when I watch my birds at the feeder, and feel a deeply contented. when I hear a robin sing and feel a joyfull bliss? Or when I am almost overcome with tears at the beauty of a flower? a cloud? a sky?

  16. Anonymous, how I wish I could comfort you in person. Those of us indoctrinated in the church have a life's work in learning to love ourselves.

    My view is that we are all experiencing God, all the time. We can recognize it or not, and choose to talk about it in one way or another, with others' words or our own, but what we SAY is not IT.

    Friend, you are not alone. Run to your nearest book source and get Sue Monk Kidd's "Dance of the Dissident Daughter." She grew up Baptist, but her journey is familiar and instructive.

    And keep checking in! In sharing our burdens they become lighter. Let peace in!

  17. LLLreader: To anonymous Fri.9:34--I too want to give you a hug and reassure you that you will find spiritual comfort and peace. If you are worried about having a funeral for a family member (I remember worrying about that)--you sure wouldn't have to have it at an OALC. In fact, you wouldn't want to--those funerals are just one big guilt trip. Before I joined a church, I had thought that if I lost a family member my plan would be to contact a chaplain from a hospital, or the Salvation Army, tell them the situation,tell them everything about my loved one, and have them do the funeral. These ministers have comforted people from all different faiths and I had no doubt they would understand. In John, Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you: My peace I give you--Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid". Jesus is with US, and in US, and knows US, he isn't stuck in the 4 walls of the Apostolic Church. AND, he sure isn't in the opinion of what some other church member thinks. I think he might wonder why we would be willing to let other people put themselves between him and us. We can go straight to Him--he hears us. Take care Dear 9:34--we understand you--God's peace to you.

  18. Thank you for the kind words, and the book recomendation. I am an avid reader and have read many books on Religion. Karen Armstrong is one of my favorites. Also, Martha Becks-Leaving the saints.
    In some ways I feel like my inbred full-on exposure to the church has "ruined" me. I dont think I can ever trust another church. I never was given a chose as a child.The church has a way of robbing a younf person of their spirit and zest for life, even before they leave home. I had been brainwashed so well, that the day I married, I turned on myself and followed the teachings to the letter. It has almost cost mew my marriage. It finally took a thereaphist to validate for me that it was ok to think for myself and leave the church. Sometimes, sitting in the ther. office, I felt like I was betraying the church by talking about my experience and that god would smite me with a lighting bolt if I kept on. Some days I am certain I made the best decision to leave, and sometimes in the middle of the night, I get scared and think I should go back. My god its been 8 years since I left.
    What hurts the most is that with out the official special greeting, my extended relatives wont even come near me to give me a hug. They are leery to go there. Its soo uncomfortable to be around them this way.
    Being the family truth teller, I have a knack for getting into others emotional territory. I think that my compassion perplexes them. at the very least I believe that they might have expected me to be running wild, drinking, whoring around, doing wordly things-whatever it is that people do when they leave the fold. I actually am more of myself than I have ever been. I am free to think for myself-what can be better than that! Its kind of a lonely world, but finding these support communities was like opening pandoras box. who would have ever imagined that our church had a history. I always thought it just was...dont ask questions, thats letting the devil in. More like ask and search and think for yourself, in order to let the devil out! thanks for listening. My new moniker is 'girl of the world.'

  19. LLLreader sez: Hi there "girl of the world". You might be living in the world, but Honey your heart is living with him. I would encourage you to find a small nondenominational church-maybe a community church, meet with the minister first, give him your background, and get a chance to worship with other good people. You can decide later if you need a fundamentalist type of church, or some particular denomination--just find some nice people to pray with. That's little steps--I tried a bible study for my first steps, but couldn't do it because all I did was cry. Being that close to God's word was overwhelming to me. I think others will understand what I mean. When I was in the OALC God was distant from me. The church itself and the people in it were the "religion". But, when I felt like I was right there with God's word it was scary. LLL wrote in one of his postillas "Some people crowd up and put themselves right next to Jesus as though they are his friend. The righteous stand back and understand their unworthiness to approach". Now, isn't that strange thinking? I certainly can't find anywhere in the bible that it says, "Don't approach me, stay back and snivel around about how unworthy you are. Then go and ask some guy to forgive you". When you leave that umbrella of the Apostolic mind set--it's going to be frightening at first. There isn't that buffer between you and God that you have had. But don't worry--fear can be part of growth--the Lord is with you and will guide you ever closer to HIM. Hang in there--we are all praying for you.