Why Does One Creature’s Life Depend On The Death Of Another?
Why do we need death?
Just as day replaces night, spring follows winter, and autumn takes the place of summer, death follows life. The Creator, Who governs everything, does nothing in vain. He creates the most beautiful and intricate beings out of the lowest, seemingly unpromising, materials. Since it is the very nature of His creativity to bestow freshness and novelty continually upon His creation, and since He sets on and motivates everything to mature and develop, risings and settings necessarily succeed each in this world.
Before going further into the subject, let’s define death. Death is not a final exhaustion of nature, an annihilation that operates of itself, or a total extinction into a void. Rather, it is a transformation, a change of place, state, and dimension; a completion of service, a release from its burden, to attain peace and ease. For every living thing, it is a sort of retreat or transition to its own essence and truth. For this reason, death is as desirable as life. It is as pleasing as meeting friends, and a blessing as great as acquiring immortality.
Materialists who do not grasp death’s meaning and truth always see it as horrifying and so compose gloomy odes to it. All such people have seen and felt the same things about death, and have made the same complaints about it.
Since death is a separation from life and the living, it affects our minds and those sentiments that make us human. It is impossible to deny such an influence, to silence the heart in the face of death. Death arouses considerable tumult in our hearts and minds, though it may be short-lived. Belief in the Resurrection causes all such sorrows to be forgotten, for it is like presenting a kingdom to a person who has lost everything, or assuring a person about to be hanged of eternal life and happiness.
According to those who understand the real meaning of death, death is no more than a release from service, a change of abode, and a journey to where most of one’s friends have already gone. Those who do not understand this see only its horrifying surface meaning: death as an executioner, a gallows, a bottomless pit, a dark passage into the void.
When believers begin to experience death, the beauties and rewards of Heaven begin to appear before them. When unbelievers, who are deprived of this pleasure of faith, think of death, they begin to feel the torment and fire of Hell that they nurture within their conscience. Their suffering is not just limited to their own feelings, for in their hearts they also feel the grief and suffering of all those with whom they share interests, pleasures, and concerns. Their suffering and loss of happiness increases the burden of grief for whoever regards death as a final end.
Believers consider death a release from service and life’s burdens and hardships, and know that everything continues to exist in other realms (in its identity as form and idea). Thus, they view death as advancement, perfection, an acquisition of a higher essence and nature. Since death carries the fruit of eternal existence and bliss, it is also a great blessing and a Divine gift.
However, every advancement and perfecting, every blessing and acquisition of it, must pass through preparatory stages: close examination, molding, and purifying. Spiritual progress and the subsequent advancement to higher levels come only through such trials and purifications. For example, crude ores perish in the purifying furnace before they yield the pure metal. Until the ores are processed in this way, they continue to exist in soil and rock, without the metal ever being tested and then presented in its true form.
If we accept this analogy, we can understand that while death appears to be a cessation, a passing into extinction or nothingness, in reality it is a passing into a higher, more elevated mode of being. When every non-sentient particle appears to move with an eager animation toward its apparent extinction, it actually is running toward the perfection prescribed for it. When oxygen and hydrogen atoms combine, they die in their separate identities only to be reborn as water, which is essential to the vitality of all living forms. Thus we can say that death is a changing of place and form, not an end or extinction. From the tiniest particles to the greatest compounds within the universe, all changes, transformations and decompositions result in what is most beautiful, fresh, and excellent. That is why we define death as the movement of beings to a higher mode rather than as their extinction.
In another respect, death is the time when one being resigns and hands over its affairs to its successor(s). This is enacted in the sight of Him Who has sovereignty and dominion over all things. Each creature is charged with presenting itself in a unique parade before the presence of the One Who gave it existence. Just before its parade is over, and the picture or record of it made and stored, the parade of its successor(s) begins, which relieves the parade ground of sameness and refreshes the scene with new and active beings. Each being acts out its role and moves aside so that others may appear, act out their roles, and show their skills. The freshness, liveliness, beauty, and excellent diversity seen in creation are the result of these comings and goings.
Death also may be understood as silent advice, in the sense that nothing is self-existent. In other words, nothing can survive by itself or has permanence. A fading and ultimately dead light indicates a source of light that is unfailing and eternal. For those who grieve and complain about the transience and perishing of all things, this is a good lesson on how to mature and attain true happiness. Whatever or whoever captivates our hearts will leave us one day, which causes us to yearn for an eternal being to love and to be loved by. In our transient world, such a yearning is the first stage of moving toward or attaining eternity. Death is the mysterious uplifter that raises people to that dignity.
Given this, we can liken death to a healing hand, one that nurses to full health, that hurts us only as a doctor would hurt us: by giving a necessary inoculation or lancing, rather than a grim sword or sickle laying everything to waste. Considering death as a merely utilitarian way of making room for new generations is mistaken, for death is not absolute annihilation or extinction. Rather, what disappears does so only from within the horizons of our limited understanding, for the identity of every particular (as form and idea) continues to exist in our memories, in the Preserved Record, and in God’s all-encompassing knowledge. They also exist in different dimensions and in realms beyond those dimensions, beyond corporeal understanding. For example, seeds and flowers bloom and die, but their identity as form and idea continues in the many seeds and flowers that will bloom after them.
Consider the subject from another angle. If there were no death, would we not live in a hell of unrelieved terror as we faced an endless existence without a break or relief? How could we measure the worth or value of anyone or anything, conserve or concentrate our energy, make or carry out an intention, if time was limitless? If such a situation existed, those who now mourn the fact of transience and death would mourn their absence. Moreover, we would not experience creation’s inexhaustible variety, with all the prompts and images it gives to the human mind of beauty, freshness, and loss with renewability. How, in the absence of such a panorama of novelty within stability, could the human mind be inspired to contemplate that which lies beyond and sustains the visible world? How could we seek and worship the One who creates and provides for the whole.
Let’s deal with the subject from a different angle. If everything depended on life instead of death, if beings continued to live through calamities, and if all events and life followed one direction forever, what could have happened?
Basing ourselves on what we said earlier, death contains blessing and wisdom. Life without death would be such an absurdity and horrible disaster that, if such a situation could be fully described, people would cry and mourn about staying alive instead of dying.
If nothing died, neither a fly nor a human being could have lived in the early ages of this world, for ants and varieties of ivy would have invaded and occupied the entire planet. Nothing else could have survived or thrived. And later on, if no ant or ivy ever died, there would have been thick layers of them covering the Earth. As such statements cannot be disputed, we can see what a great blessing death is, and the great wisdom in allowing dead things to decompose.
How much of the Earth’s enthralling beauty and splendor could be seen with such a huge number of ivy plants and ants?
What would this world, created to exhibit the splendor and magnificence of His art, be if such a situation prevailed?
How could we witness the power, might, knowledge, and grace of the Creator and Owner of this world?
The absence of death also would give rise to another problem: The magnificent wisdom and order in the rule of this universe shows that nothing in it was created in vain. The Absolute Owner of the physical and spiritual domains creates the most worthwhile things out of what may appear to us the most worthless, making the valueless into the priceless. New and excellent creations is engendered from the cells serving as bodily forms for His servants, especially those making up the human souls that God has recalled and holds in His realms. If the bodies, which He valued so highly that He “breathed” human souls in them, were allowed to decompose into nothing, the Creator’s Omniscient Wisdom would be contradicted. Any such notion is absolutely contrary to His Divine Honor, and so cannot be entertained.
In conclusion, all of creation, its balance and order, the control and administration by which its complex harmonies are sustained, is so magnificent that it inspires all people whose hearts and minds are open to the beauty and pleasure around them. The dividing, combining, and moving of atoms; the growth of plants and trees; the gushing of rivers to the sea; the oceans’ expanse, grandeur, and incalculable power; the evaporation of salt water and its return as life-giving rain—everything races ardently from one stage to another, higher and better.
By M. Fethullah Gulen