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“Death Benefit:” Oxymoron or Redundancy?

It started out as just another weekly Kiwanis lunch when out of the blue someone at my table asked if the phrase, “death benefit,” was an oxymoron.

Kiwanis, the club for philosophers.

I guess, like everything else, the answer is, it depends. That poor dead atheist came to mind (all dressed up and nowhere to go) as did W. C. Fields (who took stock and concluded that all things considered he would rather be in Philadelphia). Not much benefit to death there (except release from philosophers of the Kiwanian type).

On the other hand, Beethoven believed he would hear in heaven and O. Henry wanted someone to turn up the lights because he did not want to go home in the dark. English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes said, “I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark,” and Plato, when asked to summarize his dialogues, said, “Practice dying.”

Dag Hammarskjold wrote, “Seek the path that makes death a fulfillment,” and Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross felt strongly enough about that sentiment to call a book, “Death: The Final Stage of Growth.”

A great number of people are reporting out-of-body, near-death experiences with a remarkable similarity in detail (bright lights, inexpressible peace, great reluctance to return, etc.). Psychic phenomena reported by people who otherwise seem pretty normal lend credence to the affirmation that the earthly sojourn is but a thin slice of a much wider reality in which we self-consciously take part.

For Christians, though, the drama of the empty tomb serves as the keystone in their “death benefit” speculations and anticipations. “He is not here,” the angel said. Indeed, and for very good reason: “He has been raised.”

In those four words, the universe was turned upside down. Far from the last word, death itself died before the greater power of the resurrection. To the harsh and stark reality of death Easter boldly proclaims a life to come.

So how do we answer? Is “death benefit” an oxymoron or a redundancy? It all depends on who died … Jesus or death itself.