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Death, eternal glory and the eighth deadly sin

Death, eternal glory and the eighth deadly sin

Jo Swinney on how to healthily contemplate death. 29/03/2023

The following article deals with sensitive topics around mental health, reader discretion is advised.

I remember sitting in the bath when I was about four years old and examining my legs, thinking to myself, “these legs are going to be dead legs one day.” Our neighbour Ruth had died, and I had started to realise her death was far from unusual. Indeed, it would happen to us all. As my parents were Christians and I went to a church Sunday school, my concept of death was always fused with the expectation of continuing life in heaven. It intrigued more than frightened me.  

Then when I was thirteen and had depression for the first time, death was neither intriguing nor frightening but rather a thought I rolled around as you would a gobstopper, meditatively playing with the sweet thought of oblivion even as I knew this to be in no way a healthy fixation. That bout of major depression eased, but it was followed by many others, and long years wrestling with its less dramatic relative, dysthymia. Obsessive thoughts of death are a well documented symptom of clinical depression and anxiety. If you have been there, you may relate to this account from Andrew Solomon in his book, The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression: “I would have been happy to die the most painful death, though I was too dumbly lethargic even to conceptualize suicide. Every second of being alive hurt me.” 

Over time I developed a habit of thinking impatiently and rather fondly about my own death, even when I was in a good place emotionally. This is still something against which I have to fight, to my shame. I have every reason to embrace my life, full as it is of love and good books and meaningful work and plentiful, delicious food.   

It turns out it isn’t only the mentally unwell who crave oblivion. Regular life in this world can be beautiful and rich; it can also be boring, exhausting, painful, and deeply disappointing. In medieval times there was an eighth deadly sin: acedia. The fourth century monk Evagrius described it as a weariness of soul that “instils in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself.” Many thought it to be demonically evil, leading to the rejection of God’s good gifts with callous ingratitude. In the 21st century, in the wealthiest, most educated, healthiest parts of the world, levels of contentment are brutally low. In the UK in February 2023 only 24.2% of adults reported high levels of life satisfaction. There is something in our wiring that means many of us have a tendency towards defeatism and gloom. 

Ecclesiastes 7:4 says, “A wise person thinks about death.” A Christian understanding of death is not that it is the release of a dreamless sleep, the deep darkness that falls when all light is extinguished, or the end of conscious existence. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) We don’t cross from life to death, but the other way around.  

The season of Lent leads us first to a brutal execution and the incomprehensible moment the Son of God took one final breath before giving up his spirit.[i] But then, a twist in the plot! Three days later he’s alive – through death and out the other side. As though emerging from a cave through the bracing cold crush of a waterfall, he led the way for us into the big, wide forever world. 

Now in my forties, when I look at my legs in the bath, I see clearly that my body is not improving with age; its ultimate decay is all too believable. “Though outwardly we are wasting away,” the New Testament writer Paul wrote in one of his letters to the church in Corinth, “inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16,17) 

So yes, let us consider death, as long as what we mean by that is really life – life with no depression, no physical pain, no grief, no slow decay. Life lived forever in the presence of God. 


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[i] Matthew 27:50

Photo by Pixabay


Jo Swinney

Jo Swinney

Jo Swinney is Director of Communications for A Rocha International. She is the author of eight books, most recently “A Place at the Table: faith, hope & hospitality” (Hodder & Stoughton) co–written with her late mother Miranda Harris. She lives in Bath with her family.

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Posted 29 March 2023

Death, Lent, Mental Health


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