Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thanatophobia

by C.J. Chase

As a writer, I spend much of my life searching for just the right word for the situation. Should I have my character walk, amble, stride, pace, saunter, or creep into the room? I've often said that if only I read my Bible as much as my thesaurus...well, you can probably guess. This week, I learned a new word:

Thanatophobia: noun, the fear of death

Many years ago, I read the book, The Victorian Celebration of Death. To be honest, I no longer remember much of it—except for one thing that particularly captured my interest. The author compared Victorian customs surrounding death with those of our “modern” era. While the Victorians had elaborate rituals (special clothing, ink, stationery, etc.), we moderns tend to pretend death doesn’t exist. Three days of bereavement leave, and then back to work you go as if nothing happened.

In fact, I had that experience once. After a sudden death in my immediate family, I called into work. I told my boss what had happened. She granted me leave, then cut the conversation short. Very short. I hung up, rather disturbed. Perhaps she was only busy, but I always suspected a deeper reason at work.

It strikes me that many in our culture suffer from thanatophobia. And why wouldn’t they? We live in a post-Christian society. The future is a frightening place when it holds only emptiness. Better to pretend death doesn't exist than face our fate. For what meaning does life have if there is nothing beyond our few decades on earth?

As it happens, last week I reached the point in my book where I had to kill a character. Mind you, not a nice character, but the one my family refers to as the Slimy-Guy-Who-Deserves-to-Die. No one is going to morn his death--well, except his grandmother. (Note from the suspense writer: these are the best kinds of characters to kill because everyone is a suspect.)

But doesn't that title--the Slimy-Guy-Who-Deserves-to-Die--describe each and everyone one of us? We are all guilty of sin [Romans 3:23] and the punishment for sin is death [Romans 623]. Considering what would await us if we got all that we deserved, thanatophobia should be a universal affliction.

But fortunately, Jesus conquered death and saved us from thanatophobia.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? [I Corinthians 15:55 KJV]

I recently attended a funeral. Now as funerals go, this was the best kind—the deceased was a 92-year-old Christian widow of a pastor who left behind a legacy of family and faith. Yes, there was sadness, but there was also celebration--lots of uplifting music and a reading from Revelation.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” [Revelation 22:3-4 NIV] 

Many Christians are observing the beginning of the Lenten season. Even if you come from a tradition that doesn’t formally observe Lent (like I do), you can still take these weeks leading up to Easter to reflect on God's grace--the grace that saves us from thanatophobia.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. [Philippians 1:21 NIV] Imagine that! With Christ, we have a win-win situation, both here and forever afterward.




After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Redeeming the Rogue was an August, 2011 release. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at cjchasebooks.com

12 comments:

  1. Oooh, I need to read that book about the Victorians. All those rules about what to do and when. Very, very interesting.

    Great post!

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  2. This is a great post, CJ. I've never heard that word before (I'll not try to type it). love how you tie it in to the scriptures you used. Perfect.

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  3. Great, insightful post. Thanks for sharing. I've never heard of that word either. As far as words go, I'm pretty repetitious in my writing (a habit I'm still tryin' to break). A book that helps me, which I feel is a step above the theasaurus, is called The Synonym Finder. This book gives all kinds of cool words to use as substitutes for others. It's really helped me to enhance my writing! :-)

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  4. I know, DeAnna, I need that book too.

    Perfect tie in, indeed, C.J.

    The Thanksgiving before last, some of hubby's cousins came to visit. A constant topic of their conversations was the prediction that the world would end in May of 2011. My response basically was, "That's fine." One cousin looked at me as if I'd lost my mind.

    I then explained that somedays I get so weary of this life. Why not long for eternity? Granted, I'm not looking forward to some painful death.

    After my MIL died this past November, I've been more compelled to talk to my kids about eternity. I told my oldest daughter last week that I wanted to live my life in a way that my kids would say that their mom loved Jesus more than them yet because of her love for Jesus, they felt wholly loved by mom.

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  5. DeAnna, a new word and a useful reference -- an all-around good day!

    I have a quick reference for the Regency period right here by my computer. Just the length of time for each relative.

    I'm pretty certain that years ago I read a book where part of the plot involved a character making money by dealing in black cloth after Queen Victoria died.

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  6. Thanks, Suzie. New words are fun, but that one is such a tongue twister to say.

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  7. Cecelia, I'm on my 2nd copy of The Synonym Finder. I absolutely wore the first one out. Toward the end, I had to put it in a bag because it was in so many pieces and had so many loose pages.

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  8. Gina, I think it's really normal to fear dying (as opposed to death itself). Even Jesus prayed about the pain he knew was coming.

    We used to live very near the Pentagon, back when there was still a Soviet Union. My opinion was that I'd rather go in the first blast than survive a nuclear war. Imagine, going to sleep in your bed and waking in heaven. My choice for the way to pass to the next life, for sure.

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  9. I think I'm kind of weird. The majority of funerals I've been to have been more celebrations of life than times of intense grief.

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  10. CJ, you hit the nail on the head. I think a dramatic portion of our stress would be alleviated if we changed our perspective on death. The death of a believer ought to be a celebration, a homegoing, not a time of misery. And we need to teach that to our children, our friends, and everyone around us. For myself, I would hope my family would not give themselves over to sadness and grief, but would be thankful for the time we had on earth and hopeful for our soon reunion in heaven.
    Perhaps that's the trouble: our lack of faith in the reality of heaven.
    Thought-provoking post! Thank you!
    N-

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  11. Dina, I think it depends on the culture. And of course, funerals for Christians are just easier. What do you say to the family of someone you know died as a non-Christian other than, "Sorry for your loss."

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  12. Niki, we live in a skeptical age, so that's bound to influence our attitudes. And of course, a lot of our culture's beliefs about death and heaven have been shaped by media (books, movies) that reinforce questionable (at best) theology.

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