Death Is in the Details
We live in a culture that runs from true death. Sure, we see death all of the time in our movies, television, and video games, but rarely are we confronted with the actual death of another human being. Death has become more conceptual to us than physical. Even shootings on the news or military death counts can seem like faceless, bodiless numbers. They are deaths we too often don't and can't picture.
It takes great tragedy for us to come face-to-face with the physicality of death. There are our personal experiences, watching a loved one pass away or saying goodbye to their open casket. For us as a country, there was Sept. 11. We followed on TV as rescue workers searched for bodies in the rubble. More recently, of course, there was the Sandy Hook shooting, when horrific details emerged about the slaughter of 20 children and 6 adults at the hands of a mad man.
One victim's mother, Veronique Pozner, has come forward to give voice to the grieving, describing her son's body after he was shot multiple times in his first-grade classroom. This embodied, physical description of death is difficult for us, and the Jewish Daily Forward got complaints over the details they chose to publish in the story, including injuries to 6-year-old Noah Pozner's face and left hand. We owe it to this mother to listen to her description of identifying her son, some say. Kim LaCapria wrote for the Inquisitr:
There's something to be said about viewing the incident without the veneer of teddy bear memorials and celebrity-studded versions of "Hallelujah," seeing it for what it is — a violent act that was both brutal and preventable, a violent act that the parents of Noah Pozner as well as the 19 other children murdered must face every day until the day they themselves die.
Everyone wants to hear the stories of a town united after tragedy, but we need to hear the stories of death and grief as well. The reality of it all is found in the grieving mothers and fathers who had to identify their unrecognizable children. Those are the stories that are more difficult for us to bear. LaCapria writes that Mamie Till had a similar impulse to Noah's mom, releasing a picture of her dead son following his murder. At the time it was unthinkable, but it gave voice to the horror of race-based violence. To pretend these things don't happen is actually worse than the gory details.
We have grown so accustomed to "death" in sanitized forms, so much so that when we see violence in television and movies we hardly flinch, but when a mother describes how a gunman destroyed her son's body, or a picture is released of a slain black teenager, we cringe.
As Christians, death should not scare us. The Bible does not shy away from depictions of death, most certainly not from depictions of the death of our Savior. Isaiah 53 reminds us that the death of our Savior was no more sanitized than the death of the lives lost that day at Sandy Hook. And if we turn our eyes away from his death, in favor of something more "clean," we miss the point of it all.
When Lazarus died Jesus went to him even when he was warned that the smell of his dead friend's body would be overpowering (John 11:38-40). Not even a decomposing body could deter him because he knew that he had power over death. As those who trust in this Christ who has victory over death, we owe it to the grieving not to run from death but to run towards it with them, to look death in the face and walk with them in their pain. But also to acknowledge, like Jesus did, that for those who are in Christ that this death does not have the final word (John 11:4).
Not only did Jesus choose to face the death of his friend, but he willing took on flesh in order to defeat death and sin. Jesus became a human being who could die so that little ones, like Noah Pozner, would one day be whole and new—and unstained by the atrocities that ripped them from this world.
As Christians we can look at death and refuse to turn our faces away because we know the One who conquered death by his own and is coming again to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). We owe it to grieving families to enter their pain and hear their stories.