Recently one of our dear friends in Lexington died suddenly in her sleep. She was my age, and so, not ancient (no snarky remarks please on my creeping decrepitude). And frankly, everyone was shocked, me included. I’d seen her not long before in our Sunday school class and she seemed the picture of health. Why exactly is it that we continue to be so shocked by death in many (not all) cases? Why does it seem such an unexpected outcome? I can’t speak for everyone but I know that in the case of Christians they understand they have the gift of everlasting life, and so death may come as a shock, but it would not be viewed as “Das Ende’. That person’s spirit will go to be with the Lord and continue to exist. But still, the sudden death of a Christian friend is a shock. Why?
I have a theory about this. One church father said words to this effect— ‘God has put eternity in our minds so that we will realize we were intended to be immortal.’ On this way of viewing things, our mortality is not God’s highest and best for humankind. Indeed, it is called ‘the wages of sin’ in the Bible. It is not natural for creatures created in the image of God. Here’s one of John Donne’s famous poetic reflections on death—-
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Death is a door, not a dead end for those who are in Christ. But how then to face one’s mortality? I’ve had several major surgeries in my life, and probably have one more coming next month (an early Christmas present I guess). How should I view and reflect on my mortality? Here again, John Donne helps me…. he says….
Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.
So, are you tuning your instrument as you face your mortality? Or are you singing a sour song? This life is not all there is. If you view it in the shadow of eternity, mortality pales, not only in length but in character compared to immortality….. thanks be to God.