My Obligations to the dead

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

Before we talk about my obligations to the dead, let's talk about death. Death is a natural phenomenon. It marks the end of lives. Indeed, it brings to termination all lives we see in living things: insects, reptiles, mammals, animals, and humans. We see things begin. We know when the day begins, for instance, and we know too, when it ends.

We see lives begin. And we also see when it ends. Death is so natural that in human aphorism, it is said that whatever has a beginning must have an end. And that is our human way of accepting what we often take to be unacceptable. So it has become natural to see lives end because we see things begin, and also, we see them end. But why does life come to an end?

Different schools of thoughts have different answers to that question. On this forum, however, our discussion might not go as philosophical as to examine the different schools of thought on death in other to find the best answer to our question. After all, philosophers, themselves, might be pressed hard to agree on one common definition of death.

In any case, our interest in this column is to treat issues that are challenging to our faith as Christians. You may remember the Igbo proverbial story about the tortoise and the dog. How the people were divided about whether humans should die or not. And because of this division, the tortoise and dog were delegated to God, to give different messages.

Those who did not want humans to die wanted the dog to deliver their message; while those who chose that humans would die sent the tortoise to deliver theirs. The two animals set off. And naturally, the dog ran faster than the tortoise. Of course, their speed had no comparison. But before the dog got into the abode of God, along the way, it perceived the fresh scent of "something" in the bush; and chased after the aroma to satisfy itself.

By the time, the dog got back on track, the tortoise had crawled over to God, and delivered the message that all humans have chosen to die. The message of the dog to the contrary was not accepted. And humans began to die. Like we said, different schools have different explanations to the genesis of death, but as scripture says "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9: 27).

And the first judgment came as the first humans were judged: Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruits, and they were judged, punished, and banished from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3: 15-24). Some Scripture scholars see the genesis of death tied to God's pronouncements on Adam and Eve (Genesis 3: 19) where God insisted they must return to earth from whence they came as a result of their disobedience.

But when God created all the living things, and even when He created man, it was not stated that man's life on earth was transitory. It was only after the disobedience of Adam and Eve that we began hearing about suffering, punishment, banishment, and death. No wonder why some Scripture scholars think that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6: 23).

However, the happy thing is that in pronouncing death upon humans, God gave us the hope eternity. But then, when people die, what are the obligations I owe them?

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