Since death seems to be on many people’s minds, and relevant to today’s news, I thought I’d visit it with a few thoughts.
I’ve been thinking about death for a while. And thinking seriously about it, for 45 years or so. It seems fitting; after all, we live in a culture obsessed with death (if all the movies and TV shows with “dead” in the title are any indicator). We are infatuated with death, while at the same time attempting to place it personally at least at arm’s length, or at far away as possible at best. Our western culture has allowed us (who are non-healthcare providers) to separate from experiencing the death of others quite efficiently. I remember taking a walk through a graveyard on the hill above our town in Montana with some of our children and noting on the tombstones how many families lost members at a very young age. Most dated from the early part of the last century, which is really not that long ago. To at least a significant portion of our great-great grandparents, the term “died in his arms” wasn’t a line in a book or a scene in a movie, it was part of their life experience.
As our life expectancy increased, so did the mechanisms that separate us from the dying. Just a hundred years ago, nursing homes were created to be utilized for the elderly, who before were typically cared for at home. Now, the vast majority of Americans die in nursing homes or in the hospital. Only recently has hospice and other end-of-life care put some people back into the home.
This is complicated by the billions of dollars spent each year on research on longevity, which has resulted in many new treatments for extending life well past what was common just a generation ago.
While landmarks have been achieved in preserving the body’s health, the care of the mind has not kept pace. The Alzheimer’s Association notes that “between 2017 and 2025 every state across the country is expected to experience an increase of at least 14% in the number of people with Alzheimer’s due to increases in the population age 65 and older.”
Many Americans covet solutions for extending their lifespan while conversely abusing their health through heavy use of alcohol, nicotine, illegal drugs, and through overeating. Forty percent of Americans over age 20 are obese, which brings a whole suite of health problems, the foremost being diabetes. And nearly 8% are morbidly obese. Additionally, over 30% of Americans are overweight.
Whatever efforts you take to extend your life, one thing still looms for those even in perfect health. A one hundred percent mortality rate. No matter what steps we take to preserve our lives, death is inevitable. The moment we are born we are on a pathway to death.
There is a palatable feeling of fear bordering on terror in our world today. And the ironic aspect to all this, is that even while people are fearing death, and trying to gain longevity, immortality is right within their grasp.
I mentioned that I’ve been pondering death for many decades. When I was quite young, I was terrified of death, and had dreams of horrible creatures lurking about and chasing me. I would worry over everything I might experience or encounter that had some possibility of being deadly to me (and we had poisonous snakes and spiders around in our rural setting). Behavior-wise, I started out as a pretty awful child (I’m told) and developed into a horrible young adult (evil might be a good word). I can think of at least a couple things that I did that would have put me in prison for a good part of my life.
Finally, a relatively minor offense landed me in a county jail in Oregon. Trapped within my overwhelming fear, I anticipated all my foreseeable future to be bleak. I didn’t know that peace without fear, and even immortality, was in my grasp, until an elderly lady named Ida Nelson showed me that death was nothing to be feared, because death had been defeated through a bloody battle for my sake. She told me how Jesus had shed His blood and taken the keys of death back from the enemy.
Jesus looked to be defeated, hanging on the cross. But He was in the battle of OUR lives, and won.
Pondering death leads to pondering on what comes after. It is tragic that so many professing Christians really have no concept of the immortality that is their birthright in Christ. While they might not say it out loud, they are thinking “BORING!” about eternity. They think they’ll be an ethereal being playing a harp sitting on a cloud (in Hallmark heaven, I guess). Or at best, singing in a heavenly choir forever.
But, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Heaven is a vast museum of wonders of grace and mercy.” Think a trip to Yellowstone or Glacier Park is amazing? Wait until you see the spectacular New Earth! Think a trip to the zoo is exciting? How about sitting with a lion on one hand and a lamb on the other? Think a trip to Rome is impressive (in better times)? Wait until you see the New Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, we are too often attached to a bunch of dead, earthly things, and don’t even think about (or study about) what true treasures are. As Spurgeon said, “You will never have your heart in heaven till you have heaven in your heart.”
“How some believers starve who live without the diligent use of the Word of God and private prayer! If our piety can live without God it is not of divine origin; it is but a dream; for if God had birthed it, it would wait upon him as the flowers wait upon the dew. Without constant restoration we are not ready for the perpetual assaults of hell, … or even for the strife within … If we allow the good to grow weaker, the evil will surely gather strength and struggle desperately for mastery over us; and so, perhaps, a painful desolation, and a regrettable disgrace may follow. Let us draw near to the footstool of divine mercy in humble request, and we shall realize the fulfillment of the promise, ‘They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.’” – From Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening
Spurgeon refers to heaven almost 600 times in his Morning and Evening devotional; you can search this blog to find them using the search term “Spurgeon Heaven“, since my revision of that work in more contemporary language is here. (And hopefully, soon to be published in book form.)
In one sense, if we are Christians, we are already dead. As Paul said, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
So, want to be one of the Graceful Dead?
Graceful: Full of divine grace; spiritually profitable. (Oxford English Dictionary, meaning #1)
Dead: Belonging to the past. (Oxford English Dictionary, meaning #4)