Philosophy Corner

Death, the great leveller


Of all the fears that plague the heart of man, none is greater than the fear of death. It is our greatest fear, the sum of all other fears. We are afraid to die.

We are afraid of what happens when we die.

Death is the fundamental human problem.

There is a poem called “Gray’s Elegy” written in a country churchyard in England:

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave
Awaits alike the inevitable hour
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Life is short and so uncertain.
“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14b).

Moses said to the Lord in Psalm 90:5-6, “You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning-though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.” 

It is sometimes said that nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. But that is not wholly true. A clever man with a good lawyer can find a way around most if not all of his taxes, but no one escapes death.

As George Bernard Shaw remarked, “The statistics on death have not changed.

One out of one person dies.”

Worldwide, there are approximately 56 600 000 deaths each year.

That works out to 4,7 million per month, 155 000 per day, 6 500 per hour, 107 per minute, and 1,8 per second. The Greek playwright Sophocles said it this way: “Of all the great wonders, none is greater than man.

Only for death can he find no cure.” Does death win in the end? On this side of the grave it’s hard to tell. Left to our observations, we don’t know much beyond the familiar words of Ecclesiastes.

There is “a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). Visit any cemetery and you can’t really tell much difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.

Oh, you can intuit something by reading the markers, but the dead lie buried side by side, six feet underground.

There they are, all grouped together, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, famous and infamous, churchgoers and nonbelievers.

Which is why we need to set aside our artificial differences of creed and culture and realise that in the most fundamental of ways, we are exactly the same. We are all born, we all die. Everything in between is just flavouring.