What Is The Purpose Of Death?
Although we are confined in this impermanent material world, every one of us has an inborn feeling and yearning for eternity. Our desire for the eternal life is so great that the whole universe would not be compensation enough. In fact, this natural inclination toward eternal happiness comes from the very existence of the eternal life itself; the life for which we have been created.
Eternal life comes after death and death follows this life, just as day replaces night, spring follows winter, and autumn takes the place of summer. The Creator, Who governs everything and creates the most beautiful and intricate beings out of the basest, seemingly futile materials, does nothing in vain.
In order for us to enjoy the eternal life, therefore, first we must go through death. It is not an annihilation or a total extinction into a void, rather it is a transformation, a change of place, state, and dimension.
Considering the obligations one has to carry and the burdens that must be endured over the course of one’s life, death is the completion of a mission and a release from all of life’s burdens, too. It discharges us from the hardships of worldly life, which become more difficult to endure with the onset of old age and illnesses.
Remembering where we all came from, death is no more than a return to our own essence and truth. It is, therefore, a place to meet our friends who preceded us in the journey to the place where most of our friends have already gone. There, we will enjoy the company of our loved ones forever.
In view of all of these and the fact that death is the beginning of a new life in which we are no longer mortal, death is as desirable as life itself.
Despite all these positive qualities of death, those who cannot grasp its meaning thoroughly always see death as a horrifying event and compose melancholic odes to it. To those who can only see its horrifying superficial meaning, death is the executioner, a bottomless pit, and a dark passage into the void.
It is true that death affects our minds and touches those feelings in us that make us human, since it is a separation from life and the living. It is impossible to deny such an influence or to silence the heart in the face of death. It arouses a massive turmoil in our hearts and minds, but belief in resurrection causes all such sorrows to be forgotten; this is the promise of a kingdom to someone who has lost everything, or an assurance that one is about to be handed eternal life and happiness.
When believers begin to experience death, the beauties and the rewards of Heaven appear before them. Since they consider death as a release from life’s burdens and hardships and they know that everything continues to exist in other realms in a different form and identity, they view death as an advancement and acquisition of a higher essence and nature.
Because every process of advancement and perfection must pass through certain stages, spiritual progress and the subsequent advancement to higher levels also can only come through trials and purifications. For example, crude ores must perish in the purifying furnace before they yield pure metal. Oxygen and hydrogen atoms must die in their separate identities to be reborn as water, a substance vital for life. Every particle that appears to be moving eagerly toward its own apparent extinction is actually running toward the perfection prescribed for it.
All these analogies allude to the fact that while death appears to be an end, a passing into extinction, in reality it is a passing into a higher mode of being.
Each creature in this life presents itself in a unique parade before the presence of the One Who gave it existence. Each being acts out its role and shows its skills. In this respect, death is the time for a being to resign and give over to its successors. As the parade ends for one being it starts for another; this keeps the parade ground from being monotonous and refreshes the scene with new beings. The freshness, liveliness, and the diversity seen in creation are the results of these comings and goings; these should not be seen as being merely a utilitarian way to make room for new generations.
Another aspect of death is that it teaches us silently that nothing is self-existent or has permanence. It constantly reminds us not to long for ephemeral pleasures and to focus on the path that will take us to eternal happiness. Whatever or whoever ensnares our hearts will leave us one day. This causes us to yearn for an eternal being to love and to be loved by. Such a yearning is the first stage of moving toward eternity, and death initiates this desire in our hearts.
The best way of appreciating the existence and value of many things is to think frequently of them as being otherwise, i.e. to think about their non-existence. If we ask ourselves what would have happened if there was no death for the living in this life, then the numerous answers that come to mind justify the necessity of the existence of death.
If there was no death for the living, then the insect populations, populations that multiply faster than many other species, would have covered the earth by now, and it would be extremely difficult and frightening for human beings to find their way through this flood of creatures. It would be extremely difficult to see, in many parts of the world, the fascinating beauties of the earth through the enormous ivy plants that would surround us. Even such simple examples suffice to help us see what a great blessing death is and a great wisdom there is in allowing dead things to decompose.
In conclusion, death is one of the essential elements for sustaining the marvelous harmony and orderliness that prevail on the Earth. Our fear of death comes from our desire for eternity, but death is the very passage to the realms of eternal beauties. Life is but a glimpse of a long journey that has not even yet begun!
By M. Fethullah Gulen