Recently several of my friends and colleagues have lost loved ones. My own father and mother died in 2007 and 2008, and my wife’s parents are in their upper 80s and dealing with diminished capacities. All of this has prompted me to reflect again on life, death, and eternity.
As we move from childlike innocence to adulthood, all of us have to learn to reckon with events over which we have little or no control, events that threaten our sense of order. When a loved one dies, your country is suddenly plunged into war, you lose your job and cannot pay your bills, or your health is threatened, it can feel as though your life is sliding from order to chaos.
From what I can observe, our dog Cookie doesn’t spend much time worrying about why things are the way they are, or what will happen to her tomorrow. But humans are different from dogs – we have a built-in drive to make sense of life in some way. So, we try to come up with explanations that comfort us and give meaning to our lives.
One very common way of coping with the reality of aging, illness and death is to see them as simply an inevitable part of “the circle of life”. We live; we grow old; we die. The ancient Greeks added the belief that death was a welcome release for the soul, which they saw as having been trapped for a time in the physical realm. In this view, death is not an enemy, not something to be feared or even resisted, but simply a natural and even welcome part of the life process. All living things come from the earth and must go back to the earth; when your time comes, you die, and your soul goes to some sort of (hopefully friendly) afterworld.
This way of thinking is quite ancient but still very popular today. It has the appearance of wisdom, and with the addition of a belief in heaven it can even masquerade as a Christian outlook. But although there are elements of truth and wisdom in this way of looking at life, at its core are two beliefs that are totally contrary to Christian faith: the view that death in its proper time is a friend, not an enemy; and the view that we all automatically go to some state of bliss after we die.
In contrast, the Bible clearly portrays death as an enemy, not a friend. In Biblical thinking, humans were made for an unbroken relationship with God, and death is an unwelcome intruder, the tragic consequence of our first parents’ decision to turn away from God towards independence. It is true that believers in the risen Christ do not need to fear death; but that’s not because death is our friend, it’s because Jesus has risen from the dead to conquer our enemy.
But why does this matter? Does it make a difference what you believe about such things?
Yes it does. Beliefs have consequences. If humans are just souls trapped inside bodies for a while, then by killing someone you are really doing him a favour. Then Hitler was doing those 6 million Jews a favour by incinerating them; he was just liberating their souls from their bodies. You can see where that type of thinking leads – abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide all become acceptable and even compassionate choices. If, on the other hand, we were made for an eternal purpose and we have an eternal destiny in a renewed and restored earth, then each human life has eternal value. This has huge consequences both for how I conduct my own life and the degree of respect with which I treat the lives of others.
Probably all of us who have watched a loved one die slowly can relate at some level to the idea of death as a friend. I have to admit that I was relieved when my mother died, because I felt she had suffered long enough, and I was confident that she was going into the presence of the Lord. I am so thankful that she met her Redeemer before she died and that she is in His presence today. However, I did not see her death as simply a natural culmination of her life, but rather as an expression of humanity’s broken condition and our need for a Redeemer; and while I was in agreement with the family decision to let her die without trying to bring her back to life artificially, I could never have agreed to any form of euthanasia because I do not believe that her life was mine to end.
I believe that my life is headed somewhere – it is a journey with a destination, not a circle. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead to set me free from the power of death and the fear of death, and that regardless of what trials I may face in my life, I have a glorious destiny in a renewed heaven and earth. I also believe that I will one day face the one who made me and redeemed me and give an account for what I have done with my life while I am on this earth. I’m thankful that I don’t need to fear judgment, since Jesus has paid the price for my sins, but I want to live in a way that brings joy to the One who suffered so much for me.
Life is not a circle but a journey with a destination. All of us are headed somewhere. Whether we are headed for glory or misery depends on our response to the One who gave His all for our freedom. The price has been paid, and the gift of eternal life has been purchased for us, at an incredibly high price – the lifeblood of the only truly pure man who ever lived. What we do with that gift determines our eternal destiny. The value we place on the lives of others – especially the weak and helpless – says much about the value we assign to His sacrifice.
Over to you …