First published 1 April 2014
I found out the other day that an old colleague of mine had died suddenly of a heart attack. She was my age, and had two children the same age as my younger ones.
That reminded me that another colleague from the same place died in her twenties a few years ago in a road accident in tragic circumstances. Both of them had worked in the same small department with me. There were four of us excluding our manager, and now half of us are dead. Death seems to be ticking us off his list one by one.
That started me thinking of all the other people I knew that had died prematurely…
Another colleague from that same company died of cancer a few years ago in her thirties. I worked in another place where one of my bosses died of cancer, and one of my sales colleagues died in a motorcycle crash. I remember speaking to him on the Friday and then hearing after the weekend that he’d been killed in the accident.
I could even think back to school days where two of my classmates died suddenly in different mishaps.
Then I realised that the longer I live the more people I will know who will die prematurely. Eventually if I live to 100 years old practically everyone I know will have died. But that’s because death catches everyone eventually. No one escapes it. Whether it comes at 15, 25, 45 or 105. Whether it’s sudden or after an illness or just because the body gets worn out with age, death will come. It’s the one and only thing you can know about your future with absolute certainty.
That’s why I think the film Final Destination is actually a pretty accurate micro portrait of life.
In the film a group of people cheat death in a plane crash. They leave the plane before it takes off, and watch as it explodes in midair. In the following days several of those people die in sudden and unexpected ways (and gruesome of course!), bringing the group to the belief that death is tracking them down one by one in the order that they should have died. The chilling conclusion is that even if you escape death once around, death will track you down and get you eventually. When your time has come, there is no escape.
I’m not trying to be deliberately morbid in writing about this. I just feel that reflections on these things can be helpful. Think about it. The way you view your death can give a pretty good indication of how you view your life. And how you view your life will affect the way that you live your life.
You could put death out of your mind and try to pretend that you’re immortal. After all worrying about it isn’t going to change what’s going to happen. Might as well carry on and just live your life?
Or I suppose you could face up to the inevitability of death, and your lack of power to stop it, by living your life to the max, drinking in all the experiences that life has to offer because you know that your time may come at any moment.
But deep down I think most of us fear death. The majority of human beings actually like living, and we like the experiences we have in life, even if for periods we suffer pain or hardship. Even some of those who suffer for most of their lives, I venture, are able to find comfort and enjoyment in places, and live in the knowledge that it’s not supposed to be like this. So even they live with at least a grain of hope that they may see better days. Death brings an end to that enjoyment, and an end to all hope. And what is the point of it if it has to end? We don’t want it to end.
And I think that’s because deep down we know that we are not meant to die. We were made for more than to briefly appear on the world stage and then disappear. There’s something that feels very wrong about death, as if it shouldn’t be happening. We know that it comes to everyone eventually, and yet we grieve – sometimes inconsolably – when those we love are taken, and the thought of our own death makes us tetchy and anxious. If death were so normal, then even the death of children should move us to little more than a shoulder-shrug.
According to the Bible we were not made to die. We were made to be perfect, and to experience perfection in God’s eternal presence forever. And yet, because of sin and the consequences of it, under the judgment of God, death is a reality. There is a very real sense in which all death is premature. Just because most people die in their 80s doesn’t make them any less unfortunate. God made human beings as immortal. Death only exists because God had to take immortal earthly life away as a punishment.
The irony is that death is not only God’s punishment on sin – His way of ensuring that those who reject His rule cannot share in His blessings and His goodness forever. Death is also our only hope, because it is also God’s way of giving new life.
First, since the whole of creation was put under a curse because of the sin of human beings, death means that we need not be under this curse for eternity.
Second, God’s rescue plan, His way of pulling human beings out from the curse on sin, involved the death of His Son on a cross. Without death there would be no sacrifice for the Son of God to make, no way of bringing sin to an end with the finality of a punishment taken in our place.
Third, bodily death gives God the way of sweeping everything from this life away and starting again. We can look forward to a New Heavens and New Earth, into which God’s people will be brought with resurrected and perfected bodies. We can be thankful for the hope of that resurrection, but it wouldn’t be possible without death.
The difference with the New Creation is that only those who are in Christ can be part of it, only those who have turned from the sin that brought the curse, accepted the rule of God’s Christ, and live by faith in Him in this life, those for whom Jesus made atonement.
So finally, death is a reminder to us, a message, if we will listen, confronting us with a deadline. We cannot keep on acting like we are the masters of our own destiny. Death tells us brutally that we’re not. We must face up to our mortality, and accept Jesus Christ as our only way of salvation, before it’s too late. Without Him, after death when there is no way back, we will be shut out from the presence of God, from His blessings and His goodness. We will immortalise our rejection of Him, and He will turn His back on us forever.
Sobering thoughts… at least I hope so.
In Final Destination death always gets the victory. It always wins, and that’s what makes it so scary. But for those who trust in Christ death is not victorious. The Bible says, in speaking about the Resurrection, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The ultimate victory over death is that God uses death in bringing the hope of eternal life for those who trust in Jesus. So perhaps Final Destination is not all that realistic after all!