“Facing Death Head On”
A Review of
Art of Dying:
Living Fully into the Life to Come
By Rob Moll.
Reviewed by Jasmine Wilson.
Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come
By Rob Moll.
Paperback: IVP Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
I once had a philosophy professor who started her Aquinas class on the virtues and vices by having her students write their own eulogy. Her purpose in this exercise is both to introduce students to thinking critically about life, but also to analyze where they are in terms of virtue development. What would people say about me if I were to die now? The second part of the exercise is to write the eulogy that you wish was delivered. What sort of person do I want to be when my life is complete that I perhaps am not right now?
Rob Moll’s book, The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come, has a similar mission. Moll argues that it is only by facing death head on that we can authentically live. His book is a well-balanced mix of historical information about how Christians have practiced death, personal story-telling from his experiences with the dying from his job in hospice and the stories others have shared with him, partly a how-to manual, and partly a foundation for contemplative conversation with friends, complete with a useful discussion guide. All these elements mix incredibly well together to encourage the reader, no matter what age, to think about the best way to die in a Christian manner, and to have conversations with others about it.
Although death is clearly portrayed as evil by Moll, he argues that treating it as normal is something that has been done in past centuries, and that such an acceptance of it allows for believers to focus their attention on how to prepare for death and how to die in a Christian way. Death can be a spiritual practice that is just an extension of a life well-lived. Moll quotes a dying Christian woman as saying, “During my life I taught my family and friends how to live well. Now I am going to teach them how to die well.”
Moll suggests that perhaps Christians are so pro-life they give the impression that fighting death till the very last instance is the best option instead of potentially faithfully expressing a hope in eternal life and in a Savior who has defeated death. Death has already been defeated. We do not need to hang on to our temporal bodies and earthly existence to try and defeat death even further. Our faithful acceptance of death can be a witness to our belief in eternal life.
Moll is critical of our current norm for dealing with death. Instead of dying in the home surrounded by friends and family witnessing the mystery of the passing from life into death, most people today die in the hospital after procedures that are invasive, aggressive, and often unsuccessful. Friends and families who are advocating for aggressive procedures often do not know when to stop. Instead of accepting the inevitability of death, costly medical procedures are used to distract from its approach. At the same time, he is not completely nostalgic for the days before medicine had taken over our procedures surrounding death; he sees the progress that medicine has made in prolonging life a potential blessing. Since people have years and years to anticipate their death, they can make the proper preparations for it: reconcile with family members, and fulfill any vocational callings that they still want to fulfill.
Overall, this book is an incredibly useful and interesting read, and a good tool to help start a conversation all of us need to have with our family members, friends, and ourselves, no matter what age we are.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com