The first person I knew who died was my kindergarten teacher. My mother tried to break the news as gently as she could, reading select portions of the story which appeared in The Denver Post. Particularly unsettling was the fact she had died in a high rise hotel fire. I wasn’t sure what it meant to die. But my mom said I would never see Mrs. Dale again. And that realization made me cry.
Later that summer, as we were driving along I-25, I sat in the backseat of our Pinto and marveled at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. With my nose pressed against the window, I stared at the trees, flowers and birds. And, despite my youth, or maybe because of it, I instantly understood a simple but profound truth—someone had to have created the world…and me along with it!
When I asked my parents if they believed in God, they said, “Of course.” But religion wasn’t something we routinely discussed. My father was raised Catholic, serving as an altar boy before his family sent him off to reform school when he was 12. My mother’s family occasionally attended a Presbyterian church in Michigan while she was growing up. But neither of my parents went to church at the time. So I wondered how it was possible they could know there is a God and yet fail to acknowledge Him or include them in their everyday lives.
When my dad died nine years later, I was thankful that he had since professed faith in Jesus and had been baptized along with my mom and me at a non-denominational Evangelical church in Englewood, Colorado. I loved my father. But I didn’t cry when I found out about his death. As shell-shocked as I was by his passing, I knew that his body was in the casket…not his soul.
If you think about it, it’s a bit odd how human beings accept death as a normal part of life. Not that we have a choice. Like taxes, it’s unavoidable. No doubt you know someone who has died…maybe even recently. The past few weeks alone have brought the deaths of American astronaut Neil Armstrong, comedienne Phyllis Diller and the voice of Sesame Street’s Count Jerry Nelson. In fact, on average, 150,000 people die every day!
So we all know the deal. Even if we enjoy an extraordinarily long life, we will eventually die. So why do we invest so much of ourselves on earth when we know…whatever our beliefs about life after death…that our days here are numbered? And if our days here are numbered, how then shall we live? Here are a few hints from Scripture:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;” whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”~ James 4:14
You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before you; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.~Psalm 39:5
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.~Ephesians 5:15-16
I find particularly poignant the spiritual writings of people who have died—heroes of the faith including every single apostle, Dietrich Bonheoffer, John Bunyan, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, Keith Green, Brother Lawrence, C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer and David Wilkerson…to name a few. Equally heartrending is the work done by people, now deceased, who lived their lives on earth apart from Christ. The reason this affects me is because…ready or not, they are all standing in eternity, where we too will be.
So what should we do with the time we have while we’re here? For my part, I want to take my cue from the Apostle Paul:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
~ II Cor. 4:18
By grace alone,
~Bowling for Jesus