It’s that thing we don’t like to think about.
It’s like the weird uncle locked in the basement. Every now and then we hear him knock around down there and we try to ignore him.
It’s like distant lightning. Every once in a while it flits across the horizon but we quickly look the other way. Because we get uncomfortable when we think about it. Oh, we know it’s coming sometime, a long, long time from now. There’ll be time to think about it later. What is “it”? Death.
As a culture, we do a pretty good job of hiding death from ourselves. When someone dies, we quickly whisk them off to a mortician who makes them look as good as possible. We have a few hours of viewing the body, we hold a funeral, close the casket and everybody goes to a luncheon.
We don’t like to think about death. At least not our own. We’re a funny people – we have all kinds of TV shows about murders, police, and emergency rooms, yet we don’t like contemplating our fragility. We think we’re going to live forever. If we just work out, don’t eat too much fat, and buckle our seat belts, we’ll be the next Methuselah.
It wasn’t always like this. For example, when Jonathan Edwards lived:
“Colonial citizens of the 17th and 18th centuries knew a world much different from ours. They had no hospitals. They possessed precious few working remedies for illness. They knew very little about the causes of sickness – germ theory, for example, did not emerge until the mid-19th century. Pregnancy and labor were potentially fearful undertakings: scholars have estimated that one in six children died in colonial America, meaning that most families would mourn the loss of at least one or two children in their lifetime…. Attacks from Native Americans posed a constant threat in many places. American colonists did not study death out of a perverse fascination, but practical necessity. Where we try to cheat death they prepared themselves to meet death.” Strachan and Sweeney, Heaven & Hell, The Essential Edwards Collection
People in Jonathan Edwards’ day didn’t believe they could play the “Get Out of Death” card. They were more aware of its reality. And they prepared for it. If we thought more about how uncertain this life is, we might prep more for the next one. Reality check:
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field… Psalms 103:15
Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. Psalms 144:4
In college I felt invincible. It might have been the drugs. As invincible as we can feel, all it would take is for one tiny blood vessel in our brain to break to launch us into eternity. I think many of us tend to be like the man in Jesus’ parable:
And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ Luke 12:19-20
So what should we do? Sit around with long faces? Dress in black and wear Grim Reaper masks? No – believers in Jesus Christ have hope of everlasting life in heaven. We should be the most joyful people on earth. But we can so easily adapt the world’s mindset. So here’s what I’d suggest:
I love this life as much as the next guy. But I don’t want to forget it’s field grass. There’s an infinitely better life to come.
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Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter.
Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.