The last enemy

If you have not been keeping up with new film releases or reading the cinema reviews, you may well have missed it. Life in a Day is a documentary that began as a YouTube spin-off designed to provide a portrait of global life on a single day (July 24, 2010), put together from videos generated by YouTube users. It in fact mushroomed into something rather grander – a panorama of modern human life around the world.

In order to provide material for the film YouTube users were asked, while filming their video diaries on that July day, to answer three questions: ‘What do you love? What do you fear? What’s in your pockets?’ It’s a measure of how such technological innovations have spread across the world that 80,000 YouTube users in 153 countries uploaded 4500 hours of video footage. For someone scribbling a blog with a free pen, these are amazing statistics. From such raw material Life in a Day was assembled.

As we might expect the answers to ‘What do you love?’ were diverse, reflecting people’s ability to love all manner of things, animate and otherwise. Rather more interesting is the fact that in answer to ‘What do you fear?’ everyone included death. Age, ethnicity, socio-economic class, geographical location: no factor made a difference to the universally acknowledged fear of death.

That will not come as a great surprise to anyone attuned to what the Bible has to say on the subject of death. More of that in a moment. More surprising, however, is the general optimism that pervades the contributions to the project. The film’s producer commented that ‘people in the film, no matter how tough their circumstances, were overwhelmingly positive about life. In fact … we were desperately trying to find something, anything, dark to help balance the narrative, but we really struggled. People were simply inherently positive’. What are we to make of all this?

Universal fear of death is something we should expect. At the simplest level, death is inescapable: nobody who thinks seriously about the subject can really contemplate cheating death indefinitely. It’s there, waiting, sooner or later. How it will come is naturally a source of anxiety, fear, even terror. How much pain? How long to endure? When?? In that context we may understand, though we would not endorse, calls for the timing of death to be put in each individual’s hands through the legalisation of euthanasia.

Death is, of course, ‘the wages of sin’, a death that embraces much more than the cessation of physical life and a return to the dust. Death in its full biblical sense involves spiritual death: separation from God, the source of all that is good, the one whose fellowship is ‘life in its fulness’. Unless divine grace intervenes, that death will become everlasting. There is plenty of cause to fear death, with the deepest reasons often operating below the level of consciousness.

But whence the positivity? Self-reporting is of course not always reliable and it may be that the less positive didn’t offer their thoughts to the film makers. That cannot explain the overwhelming optimism entirely. For some it may well have been due to religious faith. It would seem that for many, however, an underlying fear of death is not generally allowed to colour people’s thinking too much. Perhaps it is kept locked up in an obscure corner of people’s minds so that they can avoid thinking about it or facing up to its implications for living. We can all slide into the attitude that if we don’t think about something unpleasant, it won’t happen. Unsurprisingly people don’t want to think about death if they can possibly avoid it.

That must have implications for our evangelism, since we have the only true answer to death in the good news of a crucified and risen Saviour. It is a message that gives us true hope for time and eternity, not a self-generated optimism with no solid foundation, which will ultimately prove to be an illusion.