And I will die alone, and be left there
Well I guess I’ll just go home
Or God knows where
Because death is just so full, and man so small
I’m scared of what’s behind, and what’s before
But there will come a time you’ll see
With no more tears
And love will not break your heart
But dismiss your fears
Get over your hill and see, what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair
–from Mumford and Sons, “After the Storm”
Now, I wouldn’t count Mumford and Sons as a beacon of good theology (perhaps as an existentialist one), but these haunting yet hopeful lyrics are part of a beautiful sounding song that captures how much of the world views death: it’s there and it’s scary so hope for the best.
James reminds us, even from the Christian vantage point, that we have no idea what tomorrow brings—after all what is life? We are just a mist—a vapor—we’re here for a little time and then we’re gone. That moment of vanishing is sometimes quick and sometimes painfully slow. It can happen in an instant without us even sensing it is coming.
Yet if we are indeed followers of Jesus, while we might not know what tomorrow brings (literally speaking) we are assured of what tomorrow brings (speaking of the end of this life). With grace in our hearts and no more tears, we just go home (2 Corinthians 5:8).
I have been thinking about death more recently, and I have no idea why. I’m only 31, this is still supposed to be the prime of life—of course tell that to the hair that has gone missing (traitors), the ears that cannot hear as well as they once did (what?), and the aches and pains that crop up and stubbornly refuse to go away (groan). If I’m “average” then there’s still another good 50 years of this. Death should still be a generation away—plenty of time for this body to continue to fall apart!
But thinking about death also makes me reflect on life. Like most people, I have dreams of being someone—of being special, of leaving a legacy that is remembered for centuries. That must be a part of our celebrity culture, though, I mean if I were to think realistically and rationally I’d know that legacies are overrated—very few people leave one. With all the billions of people who have ever lived, how many get remembered? Five years after they’re gone, how many people still get talked about?
Even in our own families: how many of us can recall the names of our great-grandparents without digging up the old genealogical tree we keep in the basement?
In the Bible where we actually have the rare legacies of some of the oldest names around, there are also those faithful ones who lived and died (sometimes rather painfully) and all we know is they are the “others.”
That’s most of us—that’s the vast majority of us in the eyes of history. Death is so full, it has swallowed so many, yet we’re so small—we’re just “others.” Depressed yet?—you shouldn’t be. At least not because of this, if you are a follower of Christ.
See: life and death and our place in history isn’t about leaving a legacy, it isn’t about the power we had, the blogs we wrote, the degrees we earned, or the prestige of having our names preserved in a 6th grader’s chewed up old history book. It is about being content with being an “other” because we have sought to devote every moment not to seeking our own glory but the glory of Christ.
In Philippians, Paul wrote, “to die is gain.” Why? Because we get to be with Jesus. So when we Christians face the death of a fellow Christian we “do not grieve as others do who have no hope” but remember the coming of the Lord and the resurrection and “therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4). The death of a fellow Christian is an opportunity of encouragement for us who remain behind, and the inevitable approach of our own death is a sign displaying the coming of perfect joy.
But before Paul said “to die is gain” he wrote, “to live is Christ.”
Solomon tested all that the world had to offer and determined it is all vain—good or bad. After all, everyone meets the same end and whatever gain we had is left behind for others to do whatever they want. Solomon advised his son in the face of this reality to get married, eat bread, drink wine, be merry, wear clean clothes, and so enjoy life (Ecclesiastes 9)…oh, and this: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13).
That’s life: whatever we do, great or small; whatever we gain or lose; whoever we have around us…fear God and follow him. Honor Jesus.
For in the end, when you go over that hill to see what lies behind, it’s the only thing that matters. Have you lived your life for the glory of God in Jesus?