Dishonesty in Death

By Ross Engel

On January 1, 1998, MTV premiered a brilliant Claymation TV show called Celebrity Deathmatch. This vividly violent and quite hilarious show depicted clay versions of various celebrities battling to the death in the ring. While it was clever the way these clay celebrities met their demise, what was especially amusing was that announcers Johnny Gomez and Nick Diamond (and the celebrities themselves) were bluntly honest about these stars. If a celebrity had a drug addiction, plastic surgery, or some major character flaw, the creators of the show would mercilessly incorporate those flaws into the clever and gruesome ways that the celebrities would fight and die. The show ran for several seasons, pitting celebrity against celebrity to the death. Its violent run ended in 2002.

While the violence of Celebrity Deathmatch would certainly find a place in today’s blood-thirsty society (the film industry knows no end to such a thing), it is the raw and brutal honesty depicted on the show that would find itself without a home in today’s world.

There are only a few more days left until we ring in a new year, 2017. As 2016 comes to a close, one of the running themes has been the various celebrity deaths. Most recently, the list includes lewd bathroom guy George Michael and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). I heard on the radio this morning that some intrepid entrepreneur has started a go-fund-me page to protect Betty White from 2016’s cold hand of death, at first I was skeptical, thinking that this was just a brilliant scheme to rake in some cash before the end of the year, but it appears that the money will ultimately go to support a local theatre. It seems to be working. As of 4pm ET Wednesday, he already has raised $3,273!

I can empathize a bit with the mourning of these celebrity deaths. When I heard of Carrie Fisher’s passing, I immediately recalled her role in the Star Wars franchise and was fearful as to what would be done in future episodes. Many of these celebrities are people that have entertained us for years on the silver screen. Some may feel like old friends or even sages whose characters have left a mark on our lives. But most of us don’t know the “real them.” Typically, all we know is who they have pretended to be for our own entertainment.

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In the midst of these celebrity deaths, I have noticed that there is a degree of dishonesty involved. When it comes to the death of a star, you won’t find the raw and brutal honesty that was portrayed in the now canceled Celebrity Deathmatch. Instead, we are presented with a pristine and flawless version of the now deceased celebrity. In death, we are to forget the bad. We are supposed to speak in a way that makes their death more meaningful, as though they died for something instead of just dying. In death, you’re not supposed to bring up bad stuff, even if the death might have been directly related to something negative. Then again, maybe you’re not supposed to bring up good stuff either. Just recently, actor Steve Martin was bullied into taking down a Tweet about Carrie Fischer because he commented on how pretty and witty she was.

In death, you can’t talk about someone’s struggle with addiction or jail time. In death, you can’t bring up anything that might make a star shine a little less bright.

But I don’t think this ends with celebrities. Death separates us from people we know and love and care about. And in the deaths of these regular men and women, there is a degree of dishonesty that seems to take place. Now I know full well that we’re not supposed to trample on another person’s grave. We certainly aren’t to go out of our way to say bad things about someone. A funeral is not the place to tell the story about the time the deceased got drunk in Tijuana and cheated on their spouse. Often, we find ourselves trying so hard not to say something that could be perceived as “bad” that we end up speaking in vague or dishonest ways. We’ll say things like, “He never got angry,” or “They were always patient,” or even, “She would give anyone the shirt off her back.” The recently deceased will be described in a pristine or even flawless way, almost as though they were without sin.

No one is without sin. We are all conceived in sin. We are sinners to the core and daily we commit sins in our thoughts, words, and actions. At no time is our imperfect sinfulness seen more clearly than in the face of death. The wages of sin is death. A lifeless human form, reminds us that we are sinners and that death awaits us all.

Perhaps this is why the world fears death and is terrified at the thought of being honest about a dead sinner. The world struggles to confess the truth, that we are all sinful, imperfect, people, and not pristine, flawless, brightly shining stars. To confess this truth would mean that we need someone to save us!

But the world does need a Savior. And thank God that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners because everyone who will one day die is a sinner in need of a Savior. All of us are wrapped in a sinful body of death. No one can save themselves.  Not even the brightest star in Hollywood or the dimmest average person around could ever be perfect enough, holy enough, or sacrifice enough to save themselves.

Salvation comes to us in Jesus. It is His death that pays the penalty for all our sins. In Baptism, we are united to Christ’s gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. He promises never to leave or forsake His children. He comforts us with the promise that “precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of one of His saints.”

It is not our seemingly pristine or flawless existence that should give us hope in view of death. Rather, it is our Lord’s death that gives us the courage and boldness to grieve with hope. It is Christ’s death and resurrection and the promise of life everlasting to all who trust in Him that gives comfort in the midst of death.

In the midst of death, we should be honest with each other. Everyone who dies is a sinner. But Christ came to save sinners. He has freed humanity from the power of death and the grave, so that all who believe in Him would never die but have eternal life. This is our great comfort in the midst of death!

And so, in death and in life, let us not be deceived! Christ came for sinners. Therefore, let us confess that we are!

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:8-9

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