2,448,017 Americans died in 2005. 652,091 were from heart disease; 559,312 from cancer; 117,809 were from accidents. Gun deaths were interesting: 12,352 people were murdered with a gun, while 17,002 people killed themselves with one.
Every month, roughly 20 women in Papua New Guinea are accused of being a witch, tortured, and publicly burned alive.
In 2017, Chechnya began exterminating homosexuals within her borders in “Gay Concentration Camps.”
To us, these are not human beings (mothers, brothers, best friends, co-workers, etc.), they are numbers. They are statistics. And like it or not, no matter how hard you try, you will someday join the ranks of those calculated integers.
“It’s hard to be optimistic when you know you’re going to die,” wrote Neil Strauss in his book Emergency after spending years discovering how to survive nearly every possible situation known to mankind. He faced natural dangers, human dangers, toxins, et al, and gives details accounts of how to overcome and survive them all.
The book ends somewhat bluntly with an account of a nineteen-year-old girl getting hit by an SUV while crossing the street. Her body goes flying yards into the air. No amount of survival skills can prepare you for freak accidents. You can’t outrun the reaper forever.
For some reason, when I saw the film Annihilation, I was hit by the fact that I will die someday and whatever comes after is it. Like, that’s all. I cannot do anything else that I had planned on; I can’t fulfill unrealized dreams or say anything else to my loved ones. I can’t go out and have another meal or sit in another coffee shop. When that moment comes, when my SUV finds me on my crosswalk, that’s it. Period. End of sentence.
I realized how desensitized we’ve become to death the other day when I opened up the newspaper (it’s like Facebook but made out of big pieces of paper) and this was one of the top stories:
The attention-grabber in this story is the death of a [yes, fictitious] person. You can see that the author mentions that whoever the unlucky candidate is “won’t live to see the final credits.” No, Michael, they won’t live to see anything else, will they?
I know that this article was about fictional characters, but I think that the constant formation by Hollywood of our thoughts on death treat it so casually. A thousand buildings explode and bodies litter the post-battle streets, but then we get to get up and throw away the half of our popcorn we didn’t eat.
Do you realize that one day, YOU will be one of those bodies? That one day, YOU won’t get to get up and say a few more things to your bestie, nor will you get to change your mind about this topic or take a trip to that country?
Perhaps one of the scariest things about death is that you go into it naked.
Whatever it is you believe lies in wait for you on the far side of the curtain, you don’t get to dress up to impress them. You don’t get to hide behind your money, your job, or the grades your kid got on his high school transcript. Or your transcript. Your intellect won’t wow the Judge, nor will your toned body woo the fellow dead in the cemetery.
I’ve realized that we spend so much of our time (aka, our life) constructing walls behind which to hide. I can’t tell you how many days of my life have been spent worrying about my looks or shopping for clothes which will hopefully take me to that next ‘level’ of society.
Impressing people earns you no merit postmortem. You walk through that door buck naked, with no meritorious degrees, exotic cars or fashionable clothes.
Too often, this line of thought becomes distilled into the coy maxim You can’t take it with you, but far too rarely do we think about this and meditate on it. If you think this post is too dark for a Christian writer, look no further than the Bible to remind us of our own mortality. The psalmist instructs us to number our days; to remember that each one has a number and that number only goes up, never back down. You can only live it once and you have a finite number of days allotted. Maybe your number goes up a little when you eat more kale, but that SUV is coming for you. And it will not miss.
There is a cow skull on the wall of this bar. I don’t think it was put there as a memento mori, but it’s working. Even animals are made uniquely. That bull was not the same animal as his sister. James Cromwell, who played the farmer in the film Babe, said that he became a vegetarian after making that film because he realized that he participated in the death of these animals which he had come to care for. Their unique ‘personalities’ will never again be realized on this earth.
Regardless of your dietary habits, whether you’re a pig or a human, you’re going to die and there will be no more. Your effect on earth will conclude, and for 99.9999% of us, we will be forgotten within a generation.
Yesterday I asked my parents if they remembered their great-grandparents and they spouted off a few facts, but for the most part, not really. Their great-great-grandparents? Nothing. “My dad’s side was from France, but I forget where my mom’s side came from.”
One day, that will be you: your offspring unable to articulate one iota of affection toward you and the majority of your carbon will have been recycled by that time. If you’re lucky, someone will have a book of yours or a work of art you made on their wall, and say “Oh, Ethan? Didn’t he pass away a couple years ago? Oh, he’s still alive? No, I think he died in ’23…”
And that’s about all you get. That’s it.
I’ve spent 1,000 of my words attempting to get you to think about your own mortality—about the fact that you are not the exception to death—and for what purpose? I think that gaining this perspective helps us move to a place of unpacking the bigger questions. Centrally, What does happen to us after we die? Then, in light of this, how then shall we live?
If, upon dying, you enter a nihilistic vacuum and cease to exist, your life has two options: Hedonism or suicide. It truly was meaningless and none of us deserve more than to be discarded on the side of the road and neglected eternally.
If, however, you believe that there may just be something—or Someone—awaiting you, then that changes things. D.L. Moody once said that “One day you will read in the papers that Dwight Moody has died. Don’t believe a word of it! For at that moment I will be more alive than I ever have been in this feeble, miserable life…”
And if that is the case, then shouldn’t that affect how we live our lives? Shouldn’t it make us want to bring people into that life? I don’t see the Bible as a restrictive set of rules or a dogmatic system of beliefs. Right now I see it as an invitation to eudaimonia, Greek philosopher-speak for “the good life.” Jesus said that He came so that we may have “life and life to the fullest,” and I want a taste of that. I want to draw others into that.
Not only do I think that people will rise again from the dead, but I think the earth will undergo a restoration. I think that there will be a world without litter, deforestation and a depletion of our atmosphere. And I think we can begin to participate in that now.
That’s why what we believe about the next life should change how we live today.
Jesus breathes meaning into matter.
Jesus heals reality.
Colossians refers to Him as the firstborn of creation. Paul goes on a multi-paragraph rant basically on how everything that there is exists because of, through, and for Him. This is not a threat or a mere doctrinal statement. This is living, breathing reality. This is an invitation to come know, and be known by, Life Himself.
Personally, I believe that every one of us will rise from the dead. The only difference is how we will respond: You will either rejoice at the idea of spending endless days with Jesus the Nazarene, or you will continue your rebellion and hatred of Him indefinitely.
Think of it like a wedding party: We’re all invited and we all show up. You can choose to join the dance floor and party, or you can spend the entire evening pouting in the corner because your ex showed up. See that? Two people at the exact same event having wildly different experiences.
I need to stop here or I’ll think of more anecdotes and metaphors until it’s dark.
May we be people who learn to number our days. May we be people who are conscious of the next life and let that affect this one. And may we daily grow in our realization of Christ’s love for us and let that overflow into the lives of others.