I have not experienced much death in my life. Apart from my fathers dad passing away when I was in my earlier teen years, I can’t remember having to deal with the reality of death up close and personal. Especially not as an adult, until this year. My Aunt Monica Ward passed away very recently and the family and friends celebrated her life on May 5th at Travis Avenue Baptist church, which was her home church her entire life. Due to this I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the reality of death, how it impacts those left behind, and the positive effects it can produce.
The finality of death has a way of putting life into perspective. When someone is dying or passes away, many of the distractions of daily living lose their significance. The things you disagreed on, the problems you had, the frustrations of minor inconveniences, etc. all fade away and the central focus becomes spending time with that person and focusing on what matters. When someone you love passes away you don’t look back on their life and hold onto all the times they annoyed you, but you remember the good times and the love and experiences you shared. Why? Because the simple, final, and decisive nature of death forces us to stop and reflect on what really matters. It forces us to look reality in the face, and it forces us to set the distractions aside. Diversion and indifference are pillars of society. We keep so busy we miss life. I do this all the time. I know I’m doing it, but I do it anyway. I’m nothing short of insane. It seems the world is full of insane people who recognize the truth when they are confronted with the reality of death, but don’t change much about their lives in response to the realization. As I write this I wonder if any of the research or thinking I’m putting into this will actually change anything I do. Its my own fault if it doesn’t.
In one of my favorite books (Christianity for Modern Pagans) Dr. Peter Kreeft asks a question that he called a “simple child’s question”. He “asked it of philosophers, theologians, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, economists, and even ordinary, sane, real people; yet no one could give me a simple, straight answer.”
The question is….”Why doesn’t anybody have any time today? Where did all the time go?”
Indeed. Think about it for a moment. Shouldn’t we have more time given all of the modern technological advances? Why are we so distracted from what matters? Dr. Kreeft further states “we ought to have much more time, more leisure, than our ancestors did, because technology, which is the most obvious and radical difference between their lives and ours, is essentially a series of time-saving devices.” He goes on to give several examples of what he means, but isn’t it astounding that we never have any time? I am constantly saying “I don’t have time” for this or that. Or “I’m so busy.” The answer that he proposes to why we divert ourselves (which he got from Blaise Pascal, who got it from Jesus it seems to me) is that “We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We want to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very thing we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hole in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.” Profound insight. I am afraid it may be true. We want the hunt and not the capture. Once we accomplish a goal its onto the next. Rolling a boulder up a hill, watching it fall down, and then pushing it back up.
How then should we live? I don’t have to tell you. (Who cares what I think anyway?) I think we all intuitively know. Especially if we sit silently in a room and reflect on what matters, but the problem is we don’t. We are constantly diverted. The problem I know I have, and what I think most people have, is not that we don’t know what to do. God gave us mind, will, and emotion with which we can discern what we should do if we are honest. However, I simply don’t do it. I don’t do what I know I should do all the time. I should make the moments count with my family and friends more than I do. I should work less and make more time for family. (See info-graphic on top regrets of the elderly at the end) I should work my hardest when there is work to be done, and rest when it is time to rest. However, I divert myself in various ways and I forget. I don’t want to forget, but I do. Death has a way of forcing us to remember, and we should remember. I should remember. What use is unapplied knowledge?
So far I’ve talked about how diversion is a serious problem we all face, and how the reality of death can wake us up to how we ought to live. This isn’t ground breaking information, but I wanted to write it at any rate. Now I want to talk about hope. What is hope? It is to trust in, wait for, look for, or desire something or someone; or to expect something beneficial in the future. Everyone has hope in something. I have spent a lot of time talking to people of atheistic and skeptical worldviews and one of the common themes is that they hope in humanity, science, and technology. Their hope is that human beings will continue to grow more empathetic and as science progresses we will diminish pain and suffering. A great thing to hope for I think. However, I can’t help but point out that this provides no hope for the individual human life that is staring death in the face. Given a naturalistic worldview, there is no hope in the end for me or you, only oblivion. Is it even possible to live without hope?
Side note: everyone who knows me know that I enjoy “heavy metal” music. Strangely enough, I happened upon a band called “Adestria” recently, during this time of thinking about death and my Aunts passing. I listened to one of their songs called “More than you know” several times and for some reason I really liked it, even though I wasn’t really consciously paying attention to the lyrics. I probably liked it because it starts off slow with just singing, and I enjoy it when heavy bands write a slow song. I kept getting goosebumps at this certain part though, and so I went back through it and paid attention to the lyrics. Immediately it hit me that this song was about someone passing, specifically one of the band members mothers passed from Cancer. (I looked it up) They have a lot of good lines in the song that really resonated with me as I contemplated all of this. A few are below
–As time runs out, everything he never said, every chance he never took, plays over in his head.”
–And he screamed at the sky! The body of a woman that he still loves, lays lifeless before his eyes. (At this part they switch from singing to screaming and I get goosebumps every time still…even just reading it…)
–A hollow vessel at rest, opens up to the skies. Does death give way to peace, or just oblivion?
Not exactly happy lyrics, but these lyrics expressed quite perfectly what I was thinking and feeling. Look up the entire song, it ends hopeful. They painted a picture of the reality of the thoughts of people who have lost someone. I found it very interesting that I randomly came upon this song at this exact time…..
My Aunt had a lot of hope as she struggled with cancer. All the way to the end. I don’t just mean hope for recovery either. I mean hope that no matter what, she would receive something beneficial in the future, namely life with God in the next life. She hoped that the mark she left behind would be one of faith and trust in Christ. That those she left behind would not forget her source of strength and what she thought about where they should turn when life gets hard. Why did she have this hope? Because she trusted in Jesus. In John 10 it says…”So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door…if anyone enters through me he will be saved.” She had hope because she knew Jesus and he saved her soul. He gave her peace to the end, even when she was frustrated with her material body when she lost the ability to speak normally. She knew that Jesus provides the answer to the biggest human problems; sin and salvation. We all screw up. Sin means missing the mark. Salvation is the deliverance from sin and its consequences. The Christian worldview maintains that death is a consequence of sin, and it’s not the way it is supposed to be. The Bible teaches that sin results in separation from God because he is holy and good. In this life and the next. Jesus is the salvation of mankind and bridges the gap between us and God, and that every man can be saved by grace through faith in Christ. (Ephesians 2:8-9, John 3:16-18, Galatians 2:16) The Bible also teaches that God desires that all men would be saved from the consequences of sin and that we would “come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) The truth is that Jesus saves. Its a cliche you’ve heard, but don’t let mere repetition keep you from contemplating what is means. You can count on 2 things happening in your life, you are going to die, and you’re going to screw up sometimes. Who has the power to save us from ourselves?
Aunt Monica’s mission to the end was to share the life that Jesus gives with as many people as possible and I will forever be inspired by that. It would not have been possible for her to maintain the positive attitude she did without her firmly having hope. The peace, hope, and joy that comes from knowing God through Jesus is what sustained her and it is what I look to in my own weakness. I know that I am not strong, but it is ok. (Psalm 54:4) For He is strong, and my hope is in the one who died and rose (John 3:16-18) for us all. The good news is that if you are reading this it is not too late, there truly is hope. I hope something here has been of interest or edification to someone. God bless you all. You pray for me and I’ll pray for you. Pray that we would all not only understand the truth but apply it. I pray that I would not forget the things I’ve said here and that I won’t look back at the end of my life and say all the things in the image below.