An Endless Night?
Pieter van Leeuwen, Navigators Rep, Southampton
13 June 2019
“Death is the enemy” Lord Beric Dondarrion says, “the first and the last … The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him.”
Having been a Christian for over two decades, it’s easy to get a bit desensitised to how amazing the gospel really is. But every so often I encounter things that help me see it afresh. Especially when contrasted with an alternative message.
In the fantasy world of Game of Thrones, there are various pagan religions and deities that people follow. Beric and others follow a deity called The Lord of Light. At first it sounds kind of biblical, until you realise that worshipping him involves witchcraft and human sacrifice. Far from it. Beric’s impression of death features in Season 7, when he and Jon Snow discuss their purpose: having to face the Night King, who can wipe out all life.
Beric: Death is the enemy, the first and the last.
Jon: But we all die.
Beric: The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him.
At first Beric’s words struck me as heroic. He was willing to defend others at the cost of his own life. Yet, they are also fatalistic. In the end, death always wins. So why be heroic? Why does it matter, since everything turns to nothing eventually?
I have to admit something … There have been times when I have had doubts about God, if he is real and if he is able to give us new life after death. Over time I realised that they were tied to fear that I might be wrong, rather than genuine doubts with actual reasons. Jesus’ resurrection is history and creation has now given us better testimony about God than ever before – not to mention my personal experience of what God has done in my life and the lives of others I know.
Nevertheless, I find the prospect of death seen from a secular/atheist point of view, utterly terrifying! The idea that I am going to die, is truly my worst terror. Think about it: if this turns out to be true, then it will be as if I have never existed.
This point was brought out in the show’s final season. As the people of Westeros plan how to defeat the Night King and his zombie army, they realise that his goal is to destroy all memory of humanity. “An endless night,” as Bran Stark puts it, “He wants to erase this world …” Sam Tarly adds: “That’s what death is, forgetting and being forgotten.”
At this, the optimistic atheist might say, “Who cares? I won’t be there to be upset about it.” That would be true, but why am I so terrified all the same? It’s not as though I would be able to look back on my life and think, “What a good time.” That’s the point, I wouldn’t be there at all. Whether I existed or not makes no difference. To me, that makes life as meaningful as arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I see the logic of this atheist argument, but don’t find it optimistic at all. Besides, I just don’t want life to end!
Keanu Reeves’ comments on death have recently gone viral. In an interview on The Late Show, the actor was asked what he thinks happens after we die. He replied, “I know that the ones who love us will miss us.” His tragic family losses make it a poignant statement. But this philosophy carries its own tragedy. Keanu’s words imply that death is the end. I have friends who say this philosophy inspires them to enjoy every day as if it’s their last. But this doesn’t tally with our conversations, where they often unload about the stresses and strains of the day. It’s a nice ideology, but I don’t buy it, especially if all this living comes to nothing and everything is undone. How can you fully enjoy every day when you have total oblivion hanging above your head?
However, contrast this with the amazing hope of new life that Jesus offers. He was the prototype, whom God raised from the dead. As Paul said,
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11, NIV).
Here we can look at the facts of history: that Jesus died by crucifixion, that the tomb was empty, that the disciples sincerely believed they saw him alive after three days. These are widely acknowledged by historians, even sceptic historians. Paul argues that we can personally experience evidence of the resurrection as well. God’s Spirit – the same power that rose Jesus from the dead – comes to live inside anyone who gives their life to God. The Spirit transforms people so that something of their new life is already taking shape in them, here and now.
For me, this takes on refreshing significance when contrasted with Beric’s message – “Death will always win and we still have to fight him”. It’s partly heroic, yet utterly futile. Whereas, anyone who accepts Jesus’ message, is given endless life that is free in every sense: “The Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
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