“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us.” –Romans 8:18
It’s very curious to me how people respond to death in such varying ways. Generally there are seasons (Ecc 3:1)—of mourning, of fear, of despondence, of numbness, of acceptance, as people glimpse the reality that this life is temporary (2 Co 4:16) and begin to come face to face with the enemy of our souls (1 Co 15:26). My first memory of death involved a pumpkin. Pathetic as that sounds, I remember being absolutely devastated listening to my mom explain that some neighborhood kids came and smashed the pumpkins we had so much fun carving together as a family. While watching a pumpkin slowly rot on the front porch may have been equally upsetting, I remember tearfully observing the orange chunks all over the yard, not understanding why someone would want to destroy my work of art, and feeling naively, but also accurately that this was just wrong.
Since that time, there have been more substantial losses—including animals and humans. The complexity of emotions and difficulty in coping with them is likely what most compels us to seek comfort somewhere or in something. Numbness, false assurance, and redirection are all great candidates to the effect of blinding us from the current pain and fear the Sovereign Creator quite often intentionally and graciously uses to compel us toward Himself (Isa 38:17). And if we stubbornly persist, he will allow us to be shallowly satisfied in one of those states, though in every heart of hearts, lies an awareness of discontent. Alternatively, we can run toward the one to whom we were designed to worship (Ex 7:16) and receive the full satisfaction (1 Ti 6:6) of a purposeful life and the comfort (2 Co 1:3) of his promises.
And his promises are not like the false promises the world which CS Lewis so brilliantly describes “create an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing return.” Instead his promises are eternal (He 7:20), secure (He 6:13), trustworthy (He 6:18), and infinitely more majestic (He 9:10-12) than anything we could ever imagine (Eph 3:20). How often I wonder whether God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11) in the midst of being surrounded by the temporal (2 Co 4:18) to elicit a hunger, a drive, and a pursuit of something so much greater! I find myself grateful for the hardships that come in to our lives (economic, financial, social)—not because it produces sorrow, but because of what the sorrow has potential to produce (2 Co 7:9). Tragedies in life have a wonderful effect of shaking up our mundane routines and forcing us to think. Psalm 77 brilliantly describes a heart-wrenching wrestling with God in contrasting truth with emotions. The author struggles deeply with a felt absence of God’s presence and emotional turmoil. His response is to consider the days of old, the years long ago—to remember his song in the day and meditate in his heart–then his soul makes a diligent search. It is active, it is intentional, and it is raw. He thinks. He remembers. He ponders. I wonder how many of us know how to ponder anymore. Search engines, Iphones, and social media have taken the place of thinking, reflecting, and community. We walk around as though in a trance going about our daily (often meaningless) tasks with no thought as to what we will say when we stand before Jesus and give an accounting for all our words and actions (Ro 12:14). Blaise Pascal describes the human draw to diversions:
“The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show….what people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our minds off it and diverts us. This is why we prefer the hunt to the capture. This is why men are so fond of hustle and bustle; that is why prison is such a fearful punishment; that is why the pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible.”
Truly, “there is scarcely a period of so much interest in the life of an individual, as that in which he is brought to an earnest inquiry respecting the salvation of his soul. It is the state of mind which comes between the utter neglect of religion and the actual possession of it. The dream of thoughtlessness is disturbed. Conscious wakes to its office as an accuser.”—William Sprague
So many people fear death, and I would submit that there is something far worse than death (Luke 12:4-5)—and that is a wasted life (Mt 16:25). Is it not the most fundamental need of the human heart to count, to last, to matter? I would rather die one thousand deaths than stand before Jesus ashamed and naked, head hung and eyes down, as I explain to him how I thought that watching an electronic box was more gratifying than reading his precious words, that I didn’t want to bother or offend those on the road to eternal damnation by bringing up a socially awkward topic, that his mission just wasn’t as important as my ego and that I preferred to enjoy the temporary deceptive warped pleasures of this broken world than hold out for the eternal rewards promised by an all-sustaining, all-powerful, holy pure Lord who is capable of fully satisfying my every need, my every desire and my every hidden hope. My life’s prayer is that I would think, speak and act intentionally in such a way so to stand before him with a imperfect yet confidence conscious (He 4:14-15), and sincerely confess that to the best of my ability I adhered to his words, listened to the voice of his Spirit, and cherished the person of Jesus all my days…and where I fall short, his long and mighty arm is sufficient to compensate (Psalm 19:12). Because it is what I plan to do for all eternity and I need all the practice I can get.
“We know that there is something perfect, only because we have an imperfect version of it. Paradise is a hope, but also—in some strange way—also a memory. We recognize paradise because we recognize we have been deprived of it.” GK Chesterton