The well is deep, where can I get living water?
-John 4, Silent Planet translation
If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written in the past five years, you know that I’m painfully aware of my own mortality and the imminent death which is coming for each of us. I’ve ruminated on its finality and the ubiquity of it.
Even this morning, I was catching up on the newest releases in heavy metal and found this song released by The Ghost Inside which is a reflection on the death of one of their friends to a bus crash. As you’ll see, the song even causes metal legend Jake Luhrs to weep. There was an accident while the band was on tour and ten people on the bus were injured and one was killed.
The response, according to the band, is not to focus on death and to mourn for the rest of their lives, but to focus on what’s left; too live out the rest of their lives with the life that’s inside them rather than focusing on the death that awaits them:
I don’t have it in me to sing of defeat
Triumph over tragedy
The beat goes on
Where in the gospels do we see Jesus concentrate on death? He encounters it a number of times, but what does He do whenever He does? He weeps (John 11), He retreats to a quiet place to be alone (Matt. 14), or He belittles it by saying they’re just asleep (John 11, Luke 8).
Jesus seems much more focused on life than death.
Maybe we should be too.
In yet another song (fronted by Jake Luhrs this time), he yells,
While mourning the loss, I am forced to celebrate
Celebrate new life, celebrate new life
Do we often focus our thoughts, and especially our spirituality, on death rather than life? Do we tend toward thinking about what awaits us after the grave and therefore relegate most of our religious action to then?
This manifests itself in many ways, some of which are incredibly important. For one, if your Christianity is purely relegated to What happens after we die, then you will most likely be incredibly ineffective in this life.
Jesus gives plenty of parables and teachings on how we need to use our time. He talks about the parable of the talents (or minas), in which we are responsible to use well what we have been given. In the afterlife? NO! In this life! He teaches that the one who c be trusted with little can be trusted with much. He talks about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, looking after widows, orphans and prisoners. These are not after-death things. These are things that we can only do while alive.
Too often, our faith floats above us in some vague spiritual cloud at which we will someday arrive, and there is little if any trickle down into our day-to-day lives.
Jesus confronted this way of living simply by what He did. In theology, it’s called the incarnational work of Christ. He didn’t just sit up in heaven and plop down a scroll of instructions on how to join Him up there. Jesus seems far less interested in merely telling us what to do, and more focused on joining us, being with us. His name, Emmanuel, means God with us.
In other words, Jesus wants us to—like Him—use our bodies (while they’re alive) to do religious things. What does that mean? Well James clearly tells us that the religion he chose was to look after widows and orphans. Isaiah adds breaking the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, sharing our bread, and inviting the homeless into our homes. None of these things can be done after you die.
You can always tell which Christians are only focused on a religion that begins after death—they’re the ones arguing about unprovable theories and theologies on Facebook. The ones who really know Jesus tend to be the ones hanging with the homeless, giving up their money and possessions, and fighting for justice (without posting about it…).
The Bible tends to put far more emphasis on what we do before we die than on what happens afterward. In fact, the entire idea of an afterlife doesn’t appear until the prophetic books which are over halfway through the book. In other words, God has an incredible focus on life—on what we do with ours, on how we live, etc.
Have you been like me: too focused on death to be effective with your life?
Who can praise God from the grave?
The very beginning of the Bible paints this beautiful picture of God calling the world to life. In Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God is hovering over the chaotic waters. The word for ‘hovering’ evokes an image of a mother bird flapping her wings over her young in the nest, calling to them, “Rise! Come to life! Take flight!”
This is the second thing we ever see God do in the Bible (the first is creating). God calls us to rise up and live. He hovers over the chaotic waters which our lives often feel like, calling out to them, telling us not to wait, but to ascend.
It’s important to have a memento mori attitude in most things we do, but to fixate on our coming death and the life we experience afterward can distract us from the very real life before us now. Death is real, and sadly, we are reminded of that constantly. Mourning and grief are necessary processes.
However, to dwell on them and think of nothing else is not only un-Christlike, but it can distract us from using our lives in the most effective ways possible. Is this not what a demonic enemy would want—for us to waste our lives or whittle them away in fear and philosophy rather than being effective and enjoying our life?
Jesus did not come and die simply so we could pontificate about death and the existence which follows. He came so we could have life and life to the fullest, and this tends to begin the very moment people meet Him in the Bible.
Live well now; there is no later.