Last week Friday was the 8th anniversary of a pretty somber day in my life. 8 years ago I was sitting at home with my parents in Wisconsin preparing to return to Northwestern College for my sophomore year when my phone rang with the news: my friend from camp had just been killed in a car accident. Just like *that* it had happened. There was no warning, no impending sickness, no chance to say a final "goodbye"...nothing.
So every year around Aug. 17th I see a flurry of Facebook posts and I remember back to that summer and then, inevitably, I think about death.
I'm a pastor so I think I tend to deal with death more than the average person. It's not unusual for me to be at a person's home within minutes of their passing and so I am often able to see past the sterilized and cleaned up view of death we get from the morticians. And yet, even with this familiarity, I can't say that I'm entirely comfortable with death. It's unnatural, it just feels wrong to me. It's as if every time I see a person whose soul has departed the body I think to myself, "it's just not supposed to be this way." And, of course, it's not. Death was not an original part of creation, it is a result of our rebellion against God.
But, natural or not, there is no getting around the fact that apart from the return of Christ during our lifetime (a post for another day!) we're all going to die. The Scriptures don't mince words about it, that's for sure. James says, "You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (4:14) The Psalmist says, "Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow." (144:4) The idea in both testaments is clear: life is short and death is certain and nearer than it seems. It's good for us to realize this. So often, particularly among younger people (I would include myself in that category), life is lived as if we're immortal. But the truth is that we're going to die. One day the brain stops functioning, the heart stops beating, the muscles stop twitching, and the soul departs. The question is not if this will happen...but whether you are prepared for it to happen and whether you will live in light of this reality.
The time will come when your sports triumphs will not matter. The time will come when your checking account will not matter. The time will come when your Facebook friends won't be your Facebook friends anymore and your job won't be your job anymore. The time comes when all that we have in this life is stripped away and only one thing remains. That one thing is faith. Did you know Christ and trust him completely to forgive your sins and deliver you blameless before the Lord on the Day of Judgment? If so, you are well prepared for death. If not, you have an opportunity to repent and turn to Christ now but you never know when there will be no further opportunity to do so.
But for those of us who are in Christ through faith how do we live now in light of the certainty of our eventual death? Well, our chief aim in life ought not to be success in the worldly sense. Why would we invest in things that don't ultimately matter? Our chief aim in all of life should be to glorify God and enjoy him. This, after all, does not end in death but we as glorified saints will glorify and enjoy God forever. Consider Paul's words as wisdom for those who want to live in light of their own mortality, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31) How does a person who knows that this life is not all there is live? That person lives to the glory of God in all things.