All my friends are dying. This is for you.
I won't be here in a hundred years. You won't be, either. I'm certain I won't be here in 50 years (I'd be 114!). How about 25 years from now? I'll be 89. The end, for me on this earth, in this present darkness, will be very near. Life will be, for me at that point, moment by moment, breath by breath
The question, therefore, is not will I die, but when I die will I be ready? Here are some thoughts I have about this.
- Let's be basic. One day, you will die. Maybe you'll have a funeral, maybe not. Some of this depends on how you die. (Some years ago I read physician Sheldon Nuland's How We Die. It's sobering.) Maybe there will be some friends and loved ones at your funeral, if one is given for you. Remember that you could outlive them all, in which case no one will mourn your passing. Or it could be that, in your life, you made things so miserable for others that you die without friends. I have seen this happen. I got a call once asking if I would do a funeral for a total stranger because there was no one interested in doing it, and no family would be there. I declined, due to other circumstances. Perhaps you will be martyred for following Jesus. It is happening as I am writing these words. The point is: you and I are in inexorably finite. We've come into being, and we will pass away. Yes, I know and believe there's life after life after death ( this is N.T. Wright's scholarly and, I think, accurate way of expressing it in his Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church). Still, one day you and I will exit this present darkness. It is a good thing to acknowledge this. It is a bad thing to live in denial of this (or shall I say "die-nial?")
- Life is best lived when death is acknowledged. So, no immortality complexes are allowed (on this see especially Elizabeth Kubler Ross, whose research showed, among other things, the "immortality complex" in adolescents). Live life in the awareness of death. This will focus and prioritize things.
- Readiness for death begins now. Not in some morbid, gothic sense. We don't have to wear black, get skull tattoos, or wear dark makeup. That's not readiness for death. True readiness for death is: living day by day in spiritual renewal. I love and am thankful for how Paul puts this: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:6) Avoid trying the opposite of this, which is: "Though my spirit is wasting away, I am spending thousands of dollars on my extreme makeover day by day." Have you seen pictures of 64-year-old men with the body of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and the face of Willie Nelson? In moving towards death, outwardly waste away, gracefully. You will not successfully wage war against this. Focus on inward renewal. Exercise spiritually unto godliness.
- Live life for something greater than your own self. Imagine your obituary. You want it to read differently than this: "He loved gardening, enjoyed vacationing in Florida, ate everything in sight, was an avid Tigers fan, and tried to do everything on his 'bucket list'." How about this instead: "He burned the bucket list and lived for a purpose greater than himself. In him Christ was glorified."
- Remember that, for Jesus-followers, death has lost its sting. I believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus. This is huge for me. While not having yet experienced my own death (if that's even possible), I've had many loved ones die, including a son and my parents and Linda's parents and her two sisters. In all of these events I have had great hope. I am so grateful that, when I became a Jesus-follower, I was introduced to resurrection studies through William Lane Craig. Bill was one of my campus pastors and apologetic-philosophical mentor. And then there was John Peterson, who was my other campus pastor. John married Linda and I. He introduced me to C.S. Lewis and other apologetic material. From that beginning my Jesus-resurrection-studies have not ceased. My doctoral dissertation was on Wolfhart Pannenberg's use of metaphorical language in describing the historical resurrection, found in his brilliant Jesus: God and Man. Fast-forward to the present and I see 40 years of detailed resurrection studies to include, more recently, N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. (Just yesterday I received my copy of Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne's Was Jesus God?)
Everyone can't study like this. I don't think everyone is supposed to. But for me these studies (to include reading all the relevant skeptical material) have only served to bring me to a place where I know my Redeemer lives, and one day I shall enter fully into his presence. To prep for death, focus on Easter.
- Some have the opportunity to think long and hard about death. They are those who know, for medical reasons, that unless God miraculously intervenes they won't be here much longer. Others have no opportunity to do this. They appear well. Then they drop dead. I'm not sure which is better. Irregrdless, I do feel certain death-prep begins today. What we do today prepares us for the inevitable.
- How we are in death is important. How a book begins and ends is important. The same can be said for a piece of music. Or a sermon. Or a life. Paul, in Philippians 1:21, wrote: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Therefore, finish strongly.
- You are alive! Thank God for it. Do not take your life for granted.
- Are you facing problems today? You are alive to face them.
- Do you have friends? You are alive to "friend" them today.
- If you are a parent, behold your children.
- Are you a spouse? There is your wife; and there, your husband.
- Enemies? They are your great love-opportunity. Instead of wishing they were dead, thank God they are yet alive. If you grow in love towards your enemies God's Kingdom will be more greatly populated, and many will thank God for you and a life that was spent on Christ.
- Celebrate life, whether abased or abounding, now.
Are you dying? We all are, literally. And we now live to consider such things.