We all know this. The old saying is, “You can’t take it with you.” But many have tried. We have often been fascinated with the idea that ancient rulers had their slaves and sometimes family members buried with them when they died. Such reports are greatly exaggerated, although it does appears to be true in a few isolated cases.
Much more often, ancient rulers took with them images of their family, retainers, slaves, and soldiers to serve them in the afterlife. Examples of this practice can be found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs and Chinese emperors. The desire of the powerful to “take it with them” is widespread. The tombs of the powerful are filled with evidence of the desire to delay, deny and to defeat death — even after death.
Current events have reminded me of Douglas John Hall’s meditations in The Stewardship of Life in the Kingdom of Death. In particular, I come back to the “covenant with death” in Isaiah 28:15 — “Because you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement; when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will not come to us; for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter...” (NRSV).
The verse seems to describe the theological basis of the current American administration and the culture that has produced and supports this regime. It appears to me that our current president has every intention of taking “it” and us “with him.”
The Hebrew behind the translation of Isaiah 28:15 is, I think, intentionally ambiguous. Should “death” be capitalized? Do both “death” and “Sheol” represent personal entities rather than mere abstractions? Are these realities being personified and worshiped as gods? I think that’s the implication in Isaiah’s prophetic poetry. Covenants are with gods, not with abstractions. The language in this verse is the technical phrasing of “cutting a covenant.” This is how gods and their worshipers do business.
If one worships winners in this life, and the current president certainly does, then one must worship Death. After all, Death always wins in this life in the end. All we can do is put death off or pay it off and pretend it doesn’t exist. Trump, for example, has been paying off death his whole life — using other peoples’ lives and livelihoods to make the payments. He has made a covenant with Death, and the rest of us are the currency of that covenant.
He continued that strategy, making another payment to death, with the lives of his protectors so he could wave to the pathetic clusters of sycophants on the sidewalks outside his hospital. The hunger of Death is insatiable — but it will claim even Donald Trump in the end.
Trump seeks to possess and to control and to exploit all people and all things. I think he would rather take us all with him into death rather than believe we might be able to live without him. Thus his regime stinks of death and the grave. His trail is littered with bodies. His life and rule are not merely decadent but rather moribund. Trump lives in a drain-circling world and plans to take us all down with him in the end.
In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis describes evil as insatiably hungry and never satisfied. The “kingdom below” is the realm of eat or be eaten. “To us a human is primarily food,” Screwtape lectures his demonic apprentice, Wormwood, “our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.” In the end, only one will be fed. The rest will be food.
So we are to Trump and his ilk –fodder and flesh for the feast, nothing more. Lewis captures the sense well as he comes to the end of his demonic dialogue: “Rest assured, my love for you and your love for me are as like as two peas. I have always desired you, as you (pitiful fool) desired me. The difference is that I am the stronger. I think they will give you to me now; or a bit of you. Love you? Why, yes. As dainty a morsel as ever I grew fat on.”
I think I’ll pass on the presidential dinner invitation. I have a previous engagement with a certain Galilean carpenter.