I was hoping to have a better explanation as to why I’m writing about death at the young age of 30. I confess: I was daydreaming about it. Unfortunately, that neither justifies the thought nor does it sound healthy, and I can also tell you that the third heaven was not involved in this dream. Maybe it is better that I was thinking about death as it relates to the Christian? I mean, is death different for us than for others? If it is, why is it different? Is it okay to be afraid of it, and why do we grieve if we’re going to see again the ones that have died?
Death is obviously different than saying “goodbye.” In our day of technology, we are not limited in our ability to contact others, but in the old days, saying “goodbye” may have been very much like death. I’m reminded of a story of a group Moravian missionaries (whether true or not, I don’t know) who sold themselves into slavery in order to evangelize a group of slaves away from their homeland. I can see how saying goodbye to their friends and family the moment before giving themselves away as slaves would be a kind of death. For the men who sold themselves, they would only be dead to whom they once were and alive to something else. I can’t see how that would be much different than the Christian belief about dying. Yes, goodbye to our friends here on earth and given the sheer mass of humanity soon forgotten, but we are alive to something else – a reality that we cannot imagine properly on this side of life.
Because we cannot see what we will be on the other side of death, dread and fear may be proper reactions. It is the moment where we cease to control anything. It’s actually one of those funny things about age. When we’re young, we take pride in ourselves – our strength, intelligence, and potential. We think we can change the world by sheer willpower. As I’ve aged, I’ve found I have very little power to will whatever I want into being. I’m less convinced of my overall usefulness. God doesn’t need me for anything. He could make a rock or donkey or anything he or Walt Disney can make speak do what I do.
What is my value then? My truest value is that I give and receive love. I am valuable in as much as I love God, my friends, and my family and that I receive such love in return. Love doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it grows in communion with others. The more deeply we love, the more deeply we are needed. Maybe that’s why we grieve those whom we will eventually see again. That expression of love unique to that person is no longer present in our lives…I’m really just thinking aloud at this point.
God is different from us in this aspect. He doesn’t need our love. We not only need his love but we need to love him. The ancient hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” helps me in this expression. One verse reads:
What language can I borrow
To thank thee dearest friend?
For this thy dying sorrow
Thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever
And should I fainting be!
Oh let me never, ever
Out live my love for thee!
The hymn writer makes a request to God that the value of his life be tied to the greatness of his love toward his Savior. That is the greatest value we have as human beings – to be loved by God and to be able to love him back. Flip side is also true of course. Human beings that aren’t loved become less than human. People who lack the ability to love are monstrous, and some of ugliest humans are those who try to obey God’s laws without love for him. We fear death because it limits the expression of our love in the relationships we’ve built, but for people who cannot love, their life is a kind of death.
We also fear death because it brings us face-to-face with the unknown. Death is like a fog (is that cliché?). Driving through a thick fog on a fall night can be dreadful. Who or what could you run into? Can you react in time if something does get in your way? It can control what we see and how we act. The thicker the fog, the more it controls us and the more resigned we are to whatever may happen. Yet, fog cannot cannot impede our journey; we just pass through it and find clarity on the other side.
As age wears down our wills and death closes in like the fog, we have a hope that is as certain as the Sun. Though the world around us changes and we change, he does not change nor has age worn him down at all. Our self idolatry fails with age, but we have something greater to revere, someone better to love for he does not fail.
Death has no ultimate control though it may control our senses as we pass through it. One day the Son will shine so brightly and hotly that death will be burned up and forgotten. Everything that we ever loved will be revealed by the light of day, and we will be known by what and how fiercely we loved. I want to be known as a person who loved truly. A love that desperately desired to love more and more fiercely. That I loved God deeply, and that he supplied me when I lacked love for him and others.