One of my uncles died last week. He was 67. My dad is also 67.
I turned 35 today. If you cut my years on this earth in half and went back in time, it would be the summer between my junior and senior year of high school.
Now I’m 35.
If you double the years I’ve already spent on this earth, I’ll be 70.
It’s been a reflective couple of weeks for me. It’s a reflective time when I start realizing my parents and their siblings are the generation of people who are dying. Like when I was in 3rd grade and my grandpa died. I was sad, but also gained a pragmatic understanding: that’s what old people do, they die. You’d think everyone aged 65 and over would be repenting of their sins and running to the forgiving arms of Jesus at a frenetic pace, but they aren’t. It seems like nobody is. Sure, individuals are, but certainly not multitudes.
Why is this?
Why is it we live our lives on this earth like we’ll never die, when death is the only guarantee.
It’s trendy and in vogue to believe that eternity, heaven, and hell are naive concepts thought up by primitive cultures. Science rules the world today, and science says we’ll all become worm food. But I think we’re all bigger believers than we let on when filling out our science exam.
I think it’s one thing for you to believe we all become worm food and that’s it, but do you really believe that about your parents? About your children? If you had a child die at a young age, I doubt your belief.
Your belief in the worm-food-theory I mean. That takes faith and belief too and I think you know that your dead child was (and still is) more than a big pile of cells and atoms.
I do believe in heaven and hell, and I don’t think I’m alone there. I can’t quite get my mind around our culture on this subject though. Our culture lives as if God is dead and pleasure and the moment is all there is, but what do you hear at almost every single funeral or death announcement?
They are in a better place.
How do you know that?
Did you create that better place?
If you created it and really wish for it, does that make it true?
I don’t say this in theory. I mean, you are staking your entire eternal destination (and the destination of your loved ones that you are influencing) on something you wish and hope to be true, while living in a way that completely contradicts this hope you are pinning your eternal future on.
I honestly don’t know why so many people go for that bet.
If you believe in heaven and hell, I would advise you to think about how to get heaven and the options that have been presented. There are essentially two options: one is that we can make it there ourselves. We rescue ourselves. You hear this a lot, “Well I’m a good person so I’ll be fine.” Who gets to define what “good” is? Do you? Or is there a higher authority who is actually the gatekeeper of heaven who gets to determine that? If you are the gatekeeper, then you’re all set.
But you’re not the gatekeeper. So you may want to try an alternate option.
The second option is that the one in authority, the one who created all this, God, rescues us. That a holy (perfect) God has mercy on his sinful, imperfect people–people who chose to leave and rebel against God–and comes and dies on a cross to pay the penalty for these sins, absorbing and experiencing our legal punishment so that the crime doesn’t exist anymore. The crime that brought the divide between God and man. So that man and God are now one again. If man accepts this gift of mercy.
I sincerely recommended the latter. At the very least, if you’re going to reject the latter, please stop acting like every person you know who dies is “in a better place.” I’m either wrong and they are worm food, or I’m right and they are in hell. Neither of those is a better place. People sound nonsensical when they live and believe one way but then say other things after a person dies. It doesn’t make logical sense, and it’s the most ironic and sad thing on the planet because this is the most serious matter we each have to decide about.
Even broader than the matter of eternity is the matter of how we live our lives now: in freedom or in bondage. There’s a life-changing talk by pastor, priest, and professor Henri Nouwen that I’ll link to below. He gave it in 1991 when he was 59 years old and in good health. He died 5 years later at the age of 64. In it he says:
When you’re dead, you’re dead. When you’re dead, it’s gone. It’s over. You don’t have anything and nobody talks about you anymore. When you’re dead, you’re dead. It’s amazing you know, how people can be so busy and so anxious and so nervous one day and the other day they’re gone. End, over, out, gone, forgotten. Think about how anxious you can be, how worried you are about how busy you are, how urgent everything is, how important it is to do these things, and suddenly it all stops and it’s all gone and you’re gone and nobody is interested in you anymore. That’s what living in the darkness is all about. You’re not really living, you’re surviving. And the tragedy is, is finally you failed. Finally you and I failed. When it’s all said and done, you’ve failed at surviving. You’re going to die. It’s simple. It’s very basic. It’s very real.
You can listen to his entire talk here. (You’ll be ask to create a free Hoopla account. Hoopla is a library service where you can check out free audio items like this talk. I recommend downloading their mobile app.)
It’s one of the best, most life-changing, talks I have ever heard.
Nouwen goes on to talk about how that timeline, the timeline of being anxious about impressing people and then dying, is a lie. About how we were a part of God’s eternal timeline before time even began. How we have always been beloved in his sight, and how Jesus’s death on the cross not only saves us for eternity, but allows us to live as God’s beloved children here and now, in the freedom and joy that only Jesus can bring.
I have experienced this freedom and joy and it is sweet.
It is sad to think about my parents dying. But who is to say that I won’t die first? Or one of my three incredible children?
Death will always win in this timeline.
Praise God that Jesus always wins and defeats death!
If you’re reading this, it means it’s not too late for you.
When it’s your turn to die, give your loved ones the peace of being able to say, “He/She is in a better place,” knowing they have the revelation of Jesus walking on this earth, dying on a splintered wooden cross, and raising from the dead as the guarantor behind this emphatic statement.