How can an ex-Christian give comfort to Christian family and friends?
I began thinking deeply on this topic after learning a Christian mom I know well lost one of her four-year-old twin boys due to a heart deformity. The pandemic made it impossible for her to son to get a replacement heart from the United States, and the chances of a Canadian donor was always vanishingly small.
Five days ago, she had to make the terrible decision to let her little boy die rather than suffer any longer.
What could I possibly say to comfort her in her grief? Really, what can anyone say?
What I can no longer do is give her platitudes such as “he’s in a better place” or “God has called him home” because I don’t think there is an afterlife.
I loved reading the Narnia series written by Christian C. S. Lewis when I was a boy. I especially enjoyed his seventh book “The Last Battle” where all of Aslan’s creatures are called to his country for the final judgement. I remember crying with longing for such a beautiful vision even though I know it was not real. After I turned 50, I discarded the Christian mythology for the same reasons. There has never been any evidence of the God as I grew up believing. When you really examine it, the hubris of the idea that we have an eternal afterlife is staggering.
We are bright search lamps of self awareness illuminating the physical plane we call reality. We exist for a short time, and then we simply sputter out of existence when the wick of our life is consumed. We had no self-awareness in the billions of years before we were born, and we will have no self-awareness for the billions of years after we disappear. That is a comfort because it means there is nothing to fear.
After we die, we will be remembered for a short time by our children and their children. Then we will simply be a snapshot in time; a faded picture one of our more curious descendants might pick up to examine for a time, trying to ascertain something about our life from our visage. Soon we’ll be cast aside and forgotten. Even the great figures of history are remembered only for ideas and contributions that help us today, then eventually forgotten.
What, then, can I point towards to provide my Christian family and friends emotional sustenance without upholding the narcistic fiction of an afterlife?
I point to you.
I point to me.
I honour the life that was lived, no matter how brief.
I recognize the impact of that life made on our own and on others around us.
I consider all the lessons of patience learned by parents and loved ones who are waiting at the bedside, drying tears, assuaging fears.
I revel in the emotions of love mixed with grief.
Most importantly, I simply listen to the people I love and feel their hearts.
Humanity is on a journey. The journey was not ordained or designed by a deity. How we started is unknown. Where we go is in our hands. Our journey will always be positively impacted by every act of love, kindness, and selfless devotion. These acts resonate through time long after the people and events are forgotten. They ripple onwards and outward through time to buoy up those who come afterwards and compel a better future.
Perhaps this idea is a form of hubris as well, but since it is up to us to create meaning in our own lives, it is an idea I am fully invested in.