Sebastiano Ricci, The Resurrection 1714
Here is the question of death in a way that differs from Dylan Thomas’ hopeless view of the matter.
James Denney begins his sermon, Immortality, as follows:
WHO has not asked this question, in suspense, in hope, or in fear? We know that we must all die: we know that those who are dearest to us must die: can our eyes penetrate beyond the veil which death lets fall? Is there any answer in the nature or heart of humanity to the question of Job, “If a man die shall he live again?”
If we look at the history of nations and religions, we see that the whole tendency of man has been to answer the question in one way. “Looking at the religion of the lower races as a whole,” says Dr. Tylor in his Primitive Culture, “we shall at least not be ill advised in taking as one of its general and principal elements the doctrine of the soul’s future life.” The idea of the extinction or annihilation of man in death is indeed not so much a natural as a philosophic or doctrinaire one; an untaught mind is incapable of it, and it only appears as a fruit of reflection or speculation. The natural inclination of man everywhere is to believe not in his extinction, but in his survival. The ideas attached to the word may be vague, but they are real, and they exercise a real influence upon the life.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 177.
As he looks upon the range of human beliefs on this matter he makes this observation:
What strikes one most in looking at this widespread, one may truly say this universal, faith in man’s survival of death, is its moral neutrality. All men survive, and they survive in practically the same condition, whether they are good or bad. The world into which they pass is conceived as a shadowy unsubstantial place, and the life of those who tenant it corresponds.
I have seen this to be true. I once spoke with people visiting the place a young man was murdered in a gang drive by (one rival gang against another). The friends of the slain man were quite certain that their comrade who died in connection with his criminality was alive in the same place as everyone else.
Having reviewed both beliefs of many cultures and having traced the issue through the Scripture, he comes to the Christian hope in full:
Christians believe in their own resurrection to eternal life, because they believe in the Resurrection of Christ. But faith does not depend upon—it does not originate in nor is it maintained by—the Resurrection of Christ, simply as a historical fact. The Resurrection of Jesus is not simply a fact outside of us, guaranteeing in some mysterious way our resurrection in some remote future. It is a present power in the believer. He can say with St. Paul—Christ liveth in me—the risen Christ—the Conqueror of Death—and a part, therefore, is ensured to me in His life and immortality. This is the great idea of the New Testament whenever the future life is in view.
Having shown the ground of our hope, he returns to Job’s question from his introduction, but this he rephrases it:
“If a man die,” asked Job, “shall he live again?” Let us put it directly, If I die, shall I live again? It is not worth while putting it as a speculative question: the speculators have not been unanimous nor hearty in their answer. Faith in immortality has in point of fact entered the world and affected human life along the line of faith in God and in Jesus Christ His Son. Only one life has ever won the victory over death: only one kind of life ever can win it—that kind which was in Him, which is in Him, which He shares with all whom faith makes one with Him. That is our hope, to be really members of Christ, living with a life which comes from God and has already vanquished death. God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Can death touch that life? Never. The confidence of Christ Himself ought to be ours. If we live by Him we have nothing to fear. “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” “Verily, verily I say unto you, if a man keep My word, he shall never see death.” “I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead yet shall he live, and he that liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die.” Believest thou this?