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“Thus that which is the most awful of evils, death, is nothing to us,
since when we exist there is no death, and when there is death we do not
exist.”
–Epicurus

“If death were a release from everything, it would be a boon for the
wicked. But since the soul is clearly immortal, it can have no escape or
security from evil except by becoming as good and wise as it possibly
can.”
–Plato

“One day soon you will hear that I am dead. Do not believe it. I will
then be alive as never before.”
–Dwight L. Moody

Star Trek’s Captain Kirk got it wrong in at least one journal entry:
it is death, not space, that is the final frontier. And unlike those
adventurous souls on board the Enterprise, careening
from one weekly exploit to the next, each of us is going to take that
last trip alone, when the time finally arrives.

Sometimes we get little advance notice that a place has been booked
for us; for others, the trip is long and agonizing, the end a relief for
all involved (certainly those left behind). Scientists in search of the
eternal funding dollar tell us it is only a matter of time until they
find and bottle the fountain of youth. Until then, transplant doctors
promise to keep piecing us together with spare parts. Euthanasia
activists insist that we have the right to have our doctors kill us
(they rarely ask the doctors how they feel about this role reversal),
lest we suffer any unpleasantness as we pack for the journey. And our
heirs smile sweetly over our bedside, the only outward evidence that
they are already planning that long-sought-after vacation, or
daydreaming about the floorplan for that new home on the hillside
overlooking the cemetery.

At least in theory, what we believe about death makes its mark on how
we live. Those who view life as a cosmic accident and death as its final
practical joke might be inclined to “go for the gusto” and get all they
can out of this existence. We could reasonably expect their “morality”
to be situational, their ethics relative. Their final accountability
would be limited to getting caught in hedonistic pleasures angering
others, their judgment whatever punishment can be delivered here on
earth to restrict their pleasure.

Those individuals who see a grand cosmic plan and an afterlife might
be expected to contemplate how their present actions will affect their
future circumstances. A popular view expects them to be guided by some
internal balance sheet; intently focused on accumulating enough good
points to tip the scale over the bad ones, thereby influencing their
final destination for that eternal journey. A sort of pass-fail
approach. A more realistic view holds that there is something about
their day-to-day connection with God that influences their behavior and
predisposes them toward the good.

In fact, most of us are probably too busy living to give much
consideration to death — except when it strikes close to home. Then we
don’t think about it so much as we feel it. It hurts. One moment the
person is there. They next, they are gone. Words and kindnesses that
were left unsaid and undone; angry words and petty grievances
unforgiven. Forever.

An interesting dialog occurs in John’s account of Jesus’ life in the
New Testament. Describing Jesus’ delayed arrival at a friend’s funeral,
John provides this account of Jesus’
conversation with the dead man’s sister:

“Martha said, ‘Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have
died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.’

“Jesus said, ‘Your brother will be raised up.’

“Martha replied, ‘I know that he will be raised up in the
resurrection at the end of time.’

“‘You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection
and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will
live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at
all. Do you believe this?’”

John records that Martha believed, and Jesus fulfilled her
expectations. “Do you believe this?” The question that won’t go away.
Dallas Willard, discussing the topic in The Divine Conspiracy
(HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), suggests that death looks rather different,
depending upon your viewpoint:

“Another picture (of death) is one who walks to a doorway between
rooms. While still interacting with those in the room she is leaving,
she begins to see and converse with people in the room beyond, who may
be totally concealed from those left behind. Before the widespread use
of heavy sedation, it was quite common for those keeping watch to
observe something like this. The one making the transition often begins
to speak to those who have gone before. They come to meet us while we
are still in touch with those left behind. The
curtains part for us briefly before we go through.”

Death. Is it the end of life — or the beginning of eternity? Most of
mankind responds with a shrug of the shoulders and a nervous, “Who
knows?” Willard suggests that we also consider
death from the viewpoint of the One on the other side of the veil:

“But from the point of view of ‘our Father, the one in the heavens,’
it is quite another story. He treasures those whom he has created,
planned for, longed for, sorrowed over, redeemed, and befriended. The
biblical language expressing their relationship to him is so intimate as
to be almost embarrassing. The psalmist cries, ‘Do not deliver the soul
of thy turtledove to the wild beast; Do not forget the life of thine
afflicted forever’ (Ps. 74:19). You are never going to cease existing,
and there is nothing you can do about it.”

The word “befriended” indicates something beyond intellectual
comprehension and adherence to “the rules.” Thus eternity would seem to
be less of a contract that we can demand God fulfill, than a
relationship already in progress at the time of our departure. What do
you think?

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