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Feb 20, 2017: Grove Ethics: How to Live a Good Death

In his Grove Booklet, How to Live a Good Death, Matthew Kirkpatrick seeks to challenge our theology of death, which he argues is overinfluenced by contemporary secular thinking, which, amongst other things, causes us not to think about it at all. Reflecting on it theologically has beneficial pastoral implications both for dealing with the prospect of our own death and ministering to others nearing death.

Death is something most of us are distanced from in contemporary Britain: one of an increasingly small number of things we can neither know nor control is best not thought about, even though we know it to be inevitable. When we have to talk about it, we normally do so through euphemism. 

This thinking has infiltrated the church too. We do seek to care for those nearing death, but often as people just “waiting to die” with little inherent use. This reflects either the worldly narrative that our worth is dependent on what we can do, or perhaps a version of the prosperity gospel that God’s glory can only be seen in cases of apparent success.

Instead, the gospel teaches that we should treat with greatest honour those the world despises, whom God actively uses. The gospel is not purely one of charity towards the weak, but based on their profound ability to minister God’s presence and glory. God’s power is made perfect when we realise our profound fraility, helplessness and vulnerability, so are forced to give everything to him.

These truths are challenging to many of us as Christians – not least those such as the author who are in good health, successful and (probably) many years from death: he admits that he doesn’t know how he will feel when he is nearing the end. We should certainly stand against euthanasia, which argues that there are lives no longer worth living, but do our own practices towards the dying say implicitly that there are lives “through which God is unable to glorify himself”? Instead of just making them comfortable, we should continue to esteem them and empower them.    

1. KLICE Comment June 2017 on why churches should sponsor refugee families.

2. Latest Ethics in Brief - Why Do Humans Allow Suffering: Towards a Better Theology of 'Natural' Disasters Roger Abbott

3. KLICE News June 2017.

4. Faith, Energy and Society workshop report published.

5Three responses to Philip Sampson's article on hunting plus author reply, here.