Sooner or later we all realize that we will not be the only person on this planet who doesn’t die. That moment came early for me — as young as 8 — and it was driven home with blunt force in my early 20s, when my friend Simon was suddenly killed in a horrible head-on collision. His remains were too devastated to permit an open casket. Simon’s traumatized parents opted for cremation — an unusual choice for Catholics.
The sudden and permanent absence of a friend was palpable; it was hard to comprehend that he was simply gone. For years after his death I thought I saw him everywhere, but each sighting proved to be nothing but an uncanny doppelgänger.
Our hearts struggle to accept the reality of death. Existence is such a persuasive experience that we simply cannot conceive of a world in which we no longer exist. As a small child I used to spend more time than a youngster probably should trying to imagine a universe without me: how is it possible that prior to 1969 I did not exist at all?
Perhaps our struggle to conceive of non-existence is one of the reasons the pagan idea of a disembodied afterlife has been so incredibly persistent over millennia. Sin has created a situation in which we think of ourselves as all-important, even self-existent: how could anything else exist if we don’t?
Enter the One who isself-existent, the Creator who chose to take on human form and experience this broken world with us. The One who is life lays His life down for us (John 1:4; 10:17). Even though He is the source of all things, and the means by which all things continue to exist (Col. 1:17), He determined to empty Himself to the point of death. He “made Himself of no reputation” and “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7, 8).
Witness Christ in Gethsemane, faced with the sheer reality of death. He weeps. He struggles. He begs for the cup to be taken away. Contrast that with the pagan philosopher Socrates,* who told his students to quit weeping for him on the eve of his execution and welcome death as a joyful path to a higher existence. Which one do you suppose—Jesus or Socrates — knew the horrible truth about death?
If the story ended there, with Jesus in a grave, we might be tempted to descend into despondency.
Life in Christ
What is the point of living if I’m just going to die? Why continue learning, experiencing, and loving if my whole being will simply disappear forever into the dirt? By continuing to embrace life, what, exactly, am I investing in — and why?
That question eventually visits everyone. And the way we choose to continue living will be profoundly shaped by awareness of that fast-draining hourglass marking the moments before we finish.
When I first realized I was going to die, I was on the first floor of life. I now find myself on the sixth (I am 50) and well aware that I have already used up most of my time. But in Christ I have peace that life is still worth living — fully. I know that “after my skin is destroyed . . . in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26). I see that Christ’s empty grave releases “those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:15).
I am truly free. Until He returns, I will go on investing in life — and in Christ’s kingdom. It is time well spent, and it is good to know that many long years after my death friends will suddenly think they see me in a crowd . . . and it will be true.
* As Oscar Cullmann famously did in 1965.
— Shawn Boonstra is speaker/director for the Voice of Prophecy.