It used to be that people didn’t talk openly about sex or how much money people make or how much a woman weighs, but now sex is a primary topic of conversation, and many people’s salary and measurements can be found online or even in line at the grocery store. Since I did some last-minute Super Bowl shopping yesterday, I stood at the checkout counter long enough to learn that Jessica Simpson’s weight gain is the most important thing going on in the world.
But even though sex, money, and weight gain are now acceptable topics of conversation, there is at least one last taboo. A couple of months back, I heard Dr. Forrest Church interviewed on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show. Dr. Church, a minister in the Unitarian Universalist All Souls church in New York City, has terminal cancer. He believes the last taboo is death, and in his effort to eradicate cultural reluctance to talking about death, he published a book entitled Love & Death. But I disagree with Dr. Church on most issues, including this one, because really it is not death that is taboo. Think of the cultural fascination over the deaths of Heath Ledger or Anna Nicole Smith. Think of Randy Pausch and his The Last Lecture, or the critically acclaimed bestseller by Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
People are willing to talk, read and think about death — at least somebody else’s. So it is not death itself that is the last taboo, it’s what happens next. And that is very taboo indeed. Try bringing up even the idea of a real hell in secular conversations and you’re likely to be unfriended (and not just on Facebook).
Talk of heaven is only slightly more permissible. Having lost numerous family members, I’ve observed that many people are alright with saying nebulous things like “he’s in a better place,” but they avoid using the term heaven.
But neither heaven nor hell is taboo in the Bible. Both are described as real places, where real people go. And they go there forever.
When the Nazi guards came to execute Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he told them with confidence: “For you it is an end, for me a beginning.”
I hope and pray that, like Bonhoeffer, you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. I hope and pray that even though much of our culture scoffs at the Bible’s simple explanation of salvation, that you realize that a God of love wouldn’t want it to be complicated. I hope at the very least this post has you thinking about things eternal and maybe has you contemplating Pascal’s Wager.
And for those who do know Christ, I pray that you and I will be bold this week in addressing this last taboo. May we be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have, and may we always do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).