Sadness and Death
The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.
An atheist and a Christian in the company lunchroom
Jacob: Can I ask you kind of a serious question before the lunchroom gets too full?
Keith: I guess. Sure.
Jacob: You know I’ve never been religious, so there’s some stuff that I don’t know much about. You’re pretty religious, right?
Keith: I guess so. I go to church.
Jacob: What I’m wondering — and I hope this doesn’t sound stupid — but do you get sad when someone dies?
Keith: I guess I’m going to risk sounding stupid right back, but why wouldn’t I?
Jacob: If someone dies, you think they go to Heaven, right? Once they’re in Heaven, they’re free from cares and worries for all eternity, so why would you feel bad if they go there?
Keith: You know what — that’s a really good question. I hadn’t ever thought about it that way. I guess that for the most part I’m not really sad for them, I’m sad for myself. Even though I know the person is in a better place, it’s hard knowing that I have to be separated from them.
Jacob: Would you worry that maybe they went to Hell?
Keith: Probably not. I mean, the kind of person who would go to Hell wouldn’t be the kind of person I’d be that emotionally attached to.
Jacob: What about if they weren’t going to Hell because they were evil, but they were going there because they weren’t saved?
Keith: Good people have a chance to go to Heaven even if they don’t accept Jesus, so long as they live a good life and repent their sins. You don’t have to be Christian to go to Heaven. But even with that, I think I trust God enough to know that if a person goes to Hell it’s justice being done, so I would have to accept that.
Jacob: That’s good.
Keith: It makes me think of something else, though. I might be sad if a person died who still had a lot of potential. It’s sad to see that potential go unrealized.
Jacob: What if a person doesn’t have much potential?
Keith: I can imagine that if someone I loved was really old or in pain, I might actually feel — well, not happy, but relieved when they died. My sadness at missing them would be outweighed by my happiness that they weren’t suffering any more and they’ve gone to a better place. Don’t you think atheists feel more sad when someone dies because you think they’re gone completely?
Jacob: I don’t think so. I think I feel a lot of the same things you do. I’m sad because I miss the person. I might be sad about the lost potential even more than you because I don’t have any faith that there was some greater purpose to their death. I’d agree about the person who was suffering though — I’d think they’d gone to a better place.
Jacob: Well, nowhere. It’s better to be nowhere than to be constantly suffering.
Keith: I guess that’s true, but it must be scary thinking that you won’t exist some day.
Jacob: I certainly don’t want to die, and I worry about what will happen to my family after I’m gone, but I’m not afraid of not existing. Not existing doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t feel like anything. It’s as painless as never having been born.
Keith: I guess, but even thinking about that is kind of freaking me out.
Jacob: It’s good you’re not an atheist then, isn’t it?
Keith: Definitely! Sorry I’m kind of shaky on all this stuff. I could probably find you a book with better answers.
Jacob: No, that was fine. I’m good.
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