Grasping for Immortality

memorial cakeToday’s news carried a truly bizarre story. Yesterday, Venezuela’s dictator died after a lengthy illness. Today we learned that his body is due to be preserved for future generations to venerate. Like his forebear Lenin, he’ll be on call in a glass casket in case someone needs to gaze at him to have their socialist energies reinvigorated.

And that was only half of the surprising news report about Chavez’s demise.

The head of the presidential guard, a general close to the leader, related his final words. He was at his bedside and reported that he was too weak to verbalize the words, but clearly mouthed the plea “I don’t want to die; please don’t let me die.”

It’s shocking that General Ornella would divulge this fact about Chavez, particularly during the actual process of his divinization. The general attributes Chavez’s reluctance to receive his “eternal reward” to his love of country and desire to remain here to lead his nation for ever.

I, on the other hand, would attribute his reluctance to die to other sentiments.

The article that related the morbid plans for the display of Chavez’s body cited the familiar example of Lenin, which I mentioned above. It also noted two other former rulers whose bodies have also been preserved for an adoring posterity: Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. Preparing this post I found that Kim Il-sun and his son Kim Jong-Il share a mausoleum. Likewise, Lenin’s successor Stalin would still be on display, had it not been for eventually falling out of political favor.

Now, there’s something obvious that all of these men have in common. They were leaders of oppressive communist regimes—which oppressed their own citizens because of their atheistic worldview.

Having rejected God and knowing no hope of resurrection or eternal life, they feebly grasped for immortality the only way they knew. They sought to leave a monumental mark on history, in order to be long remembered. And, considering a monument and a statue insufficient mnemonic devices . . . well, enough about that.

A Far Better Way

We who know the Creator of all life have much to be grateful for. Not least of which, his gracious gift of eternal life. Christians believe we will trade in this weak and worn body for a new one. So, while we treat the bodies of those who have died with dignity, we feel absolutely no impulse to venerate them. On the contrary, “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”

C.S. Lewis wrote something in Mere Christianity which relates directly to this sharp contrast in worldviews.

Immortality makes this other difference between totalitarianism and democracy. If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

That, dear friends, is quite a paradigm shift. To regard each human life as more precious than any abstract government or institution created by humanity’s hand. Having that perspective is akin to seeing with God’s own eyes.

I hope the people of Venezuela soon recognize the futility of the shrine that is being built. Infinitely better to seek “immortality” (eternal life) in the one place where it may truly be found.

14 thoughts on “Grasping for Immortality

  1. I am amazed anyone would continue to leave someone deceased on display. I don’t even like open casket funerals, but it’s just odd to me. My mother so ingrained in me that when you die your soul is going where it’s going…heaven or hell…and all that’s left is the shell. It’s also why I don’t get people coming up and talking to someone deceased, they’re not there.

    1. Having very recently attended two family funerals, the “open casket” issue is fresh in my experience. I don’t mind, either way, although I prefer to allow people an opportunity to view the remains up until the service begins, and then, the casket is closed not to be reopened. Some people prefer to visibly see the body, and others do not. It’s primarily a matter of cultural and personal custom. One thing–as a pastor–I absolutely forbade was trooping all of the guests past the open casket at the end of the service so that they were forced to view the deceased. I was aghast at that practice, which placed everyone on the spot and removed their freedom to not have the image of the person’s dead body seared into their synapses.

      When the casket is closed, the flag (for veterans), the funeral pall (reminding Christians of baptisms), or flowers are typically placed on it.

  2. Amen! We just attended the funeral of a dear man from our church. He was a retired pastor who had been married 64 years to his sweet wife. He died at 84, and the Lord graciously took him home quickly after his cancer diagnosis, granting his request that he not linger. Yes, there were tears, but there was thanksgiving from his family who know exactly where he is and that they will see him again! The tears are for their loss, but they know it is only temporary.

  3. Yeah. Plus, if they were going to preserve my shell for viewing, I would’ve chosen to die earlier so they could remember me as a much younger and better lookin’ guy. I don’t want to look like THIS forever! I’m looking forward to a better place and a better body than this one.

    1. Hmmm… hadn’t given that much thought. Yep, it’s a mite too late to “immortalize” myself in all of my young adult vigor and charm. What’s left of this to-be-empty-vessel won’t be worth the price of admission for the mausoleum tour. (Now that’s a good question… is there a financial charge for viewing these former communist leaders. That would be rather ironic, wouldn’t it? I’m sure it would simply be for utilities and upkeep though…)

  4. I was surprised they revealed his last words.
    Agree with creativityorcrazy – Open casket funeral are grim. It’s not them.
    The preserved on view reminds me of the old frozen dead guy in Neaderland, CO near Boulder. (It’s about time for that his old dead guy festival and race…..)

    1. Strange. I’d never heard of that gross story about the “Frozen Dead Guy Days” celebration there in Colorado (and I wish I was still blissfully ignorant.) Don’t think I’ll include that town in our vacation plans… ever.

  5. S J Bangs

    Grasping for immortality is evident even among the living. Our entire society is crazed with people trying or hoping to leave their temporal or lasting mark on the world. Some are trying to set a world record; some are trying to win a race, some are trying to cook better than their peers. Its all the same for they are all trying to acheive some sort of significance. Perhaps this is evidence of the void in a human soul that is not filled with the presence of Jesus.

      1. S J Bangs

        Jesus seemed to have this focus on a kingdom that was not of this realm, so I’m just saying…. :)

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