Death and the college student

Florida State University, the campus that I serve, is caught in confusion and mourning after a gunman shot three people at our main library. There are roughly 45,000 people at Florida State. About 400 of them were in the library at 12:30am when the gunman attacked. Almost everyone goes to that library at some timeduring their week, and because of that almost everyone in that 45,000 feels like they were a potential, if not actual victim. Whenever something like this happens, it is jarring to college students. College students normally live with a bit of cognitive distance from the concept of death. This is mostly because they can. They’re in their late teens and early 20’s. Death is unusual, and for the most part avoidable. One of the most surprising of the phenomena that I’ve witnessed as a campus minister has been the absolute terror that a recognition of one’s own mortality brings. It is not unusual to sit down with a student whom I hardly know, who with tear-filled eyes tells me of jarring experience or thought that has opened their eyes to the reality of “death is at work in us” and “we have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4). One such student, I remember, put it this way: “I just woke up this morning and I realized that I was going to die. I don’t know what to do with that.” Arthur C. McGill, a favorite author/theologian of mine, accuses our American Western culture of being death-avoiders, and in so doing, being cross-avoiders. We are agnostic about death. We believe that death [is?] may be out there somewhere for us, but we have very little that we will allow ourselves to believe specifically about death – and ironically through that avoidance and agnosticism, we begin to worship death. A real part of being a sinner who has a God or a god (a false concept that gives a placebo of what the real God gives), is the desire to hide from that god or God. When Adam and Eve become sinful, they hide from God. When we turn money or youth into a god, we hide from that as well by hiding our botox injections or accusing everyone of treating us differently now that we’re rich. And when we avoid and become agnostic of death, hiding from it in all manner of ways, we must admit that we have deified it in some way. But the real God refuses to be hidden. He walks through the Garden tainted now by our sin and unfaith. He calls for us. “Where are you?” He visits us in the person of His Son, who calls us to “take up your cross and follow Me …whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” He is displayed, not hidden, in His dying moment upon the icon of the Christian Church – His Cross. This is not a God of death avoidance. He is not a God who will allow His followers to be ambivalent or agnostic about death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way: “When God calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Now God has walked through our Garden at Florida State and has called for us, “Where are you?” simultaneously as so many on our campus have been asking the same question of Him, “Where are you?” He does not hide. “I am here, on the Cross. Stop avoiding your own death. Start embracing Mine.” I personally ask that you would pray and continue to pray for the many students who are dealing with this jarring and harsh reality, and that they might hear the call of Jesus Christ who calls them not only to the Cross, but to the Resurrection.

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