As part of the fallen nature inherited from Adam and Eve, all mankind is plagued with an endemic "earthlymindedness." Locked into that perspective, men "call their lands after their own names" (Ps 49:11
) as though their days on earth will never end. Of course, we all intellectually recognize that our time on earth is temporary, but we still think and act as though it were not. No wonder Moses wrote, "So teach us to number our days [i.e., to truly understand their brevity], that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Ps 90:12
). Death is a fate that we all imagine we will somehow avoid, at least for quite a while-until some serious illness or accident strikes without warning as a shocking wake-up call. In fact, no matter how healthy one may seem at the moment, death is always only a breath away. The very fact that this is an unpleasant subject we don't like to think or talk about proves Moses right. We need God's help through His Word to fit our few days into an eternal perspective.
Solomon said, "It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart..." (Eccl 7:2
). But modern funerals, with their beautiful flowers and kind remembrances of the deceased, seem almost designed to keep the mourning to a minimum in order to help the living remain detached from the unspeakable event that has drawn them together. We cannot bear, for ourselves or for others, to dwell upon the fact that death inevitably puts its terminating stamp upon every earthly passion, position, possession, and ambition.
He lives as a fool who forgets the solemn reminders that Scripture gives of the brevity of this life. Even Homer's eighth century BC Iliad
declared: "Death in ten thousand shapes hangs ever over our heads, and no man can elude him." Death comes with the same regularity as birth. One is greeted with joy, contentment, and great satisfaction. The other is fought off as an alien intruder come to rob us of that to which it has no right. When, always too soon, it overtakes those whom we love, we understand the anger expressed in Milton's Paradise Lost
that anyone should ever become "Food for so foule a Monster."
No matter how long a life the deceased may have lived, those who are thoughtful understand Lady Capulet's inconsolable grief as she laments over Juliet: "Death lies on her like an untimely frost upon the sweetest flower of the field." Still, we try to ignore the irrepressible truth that we as well, and all too soon, will be swallowed up by that same "foule monster." Death seems especially nonthreatening when all is going well.
In one of Christ's parables, a rich man's fields yielded so abundantly that he told himself, "I have no room where to bestow my fruits....I will pull down my barns, and build greater....And I will say to my soul...thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said...Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Lk 12:16-21
The brevity of life is not the most serious consequence of death. More sobering still is what the Bible warns will follow: "after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27
). For us as Christians, death has lost its sting because of Christ's death and resurrection on our behalf. Yet who can say that he or she has always lived in a way that would give one confidence to face the judgment seat of Christ without any regrets or shame and only with joy? I'm sure there will be tears of deep sorrow and remorse on that day.
I am often overwhelmed by the solemn and fearsome reality that grows nearer every day of standing before my Lord and Savior at last. I know that His love to me is infinite and eternal, but as well as being my Redeemer, He is my Creator to whom I must give an account of what I have done with the brief life He has committed to my use! Thankfully, we are assured that God "shall wipe away all tears" from our eyes (Rev 7:17
; Rev 21:4
) and every true believer "shall...have praise of God" (1 Cor 4:5
). Tears will give way to the eternal joy of sins forgiven through Christ's full payment of sins' penalty.
Atheists try to convince themselves and others that "when you're dead, you're dead; that's the end of all sensation." Yet the universal and overpowering conviction has persisted in every culture since the dawn of time that death does not end human existence. The fact that man is a spiritual being who survives the death of the body in which he temporarily lives on earth is a basic human instinct that can be denied only with great effort. Moreover, even apart from Scripture, the scientific validity of this universal belief is easily proved.
It is undeniable that our minds can hold intangible ideas such as truth or justice or grace. Mankind understands and applies hundreds of similar nonphysical concepts daily. These common concepts defy physical description, have no physical properties, do not occupy space, and are clearly not part of the scientifically observable universe of time and sense. Obviously, nothing physical could originate and hold such thoughts-a fact that eliminates the brain as the source of any thinking at all. We do not wait for the brain to tell us what it wants us to do! We-the persons of soul and spirit living within each body-initiate our thoughts.
In fact, all thoughts are nonphysical. No thought of any kind has any spatial location or any physical substance. The conclusion is inescapable: man is a nonphysical being living in a temporary, physical body. Not his brain but man himself is the originator and guardian of his thoughts.
Though death separates man from the house he has inhabited on this earth, the spirit and soul, which are his real self, do not and cannot cease to exist. What about animals? While we have bodies much like theirs and a superficial physical likeness in many ways, which has spawned the ridiculous and unscientific theory of evolution, there is a great and eternal difference between mankind and the animal world. What is it? As Mortimer J. Adler (a brilliant former atheist and now professing Christian) points out in his book, The Difference of Man, and the Difference it Makes
, man's ability to form nonphysical conceptual ideas and to express them in speech confines all non-human life to the other side of a chasm that evolution could never bridge.
The fact that our thoughts do not originate with the brain can be proved in many other ways. For example, it makes no more sense to credit the physical brain with morals and ethics than to speak of an "honest liver" or an "immoral kidney." Nor can anyone absolve himself from any thought or deed by saying "my brain made me do it." Clearly, the selfless and volitional commitment of love, the appreciation of truth and beauty, the loathing of evil, and the longing for ultimate fulfillment do not arise from any quality of the atoms, molecules, or cells that comprise any part of the body-including the brain.
Inasmuch as the real person inside depends upon the body for no more than temporary housing and the means of functioning in this physical universe, there is no reason to believe that death ends a person's conscious existence. We are driven rather to conclude that death releases the soul and spirit from its bodily confinement to experience another even more real dimension of being.
Without doubt, death ends our bodily existence. But the death of the body cannot end the existence of the soul and spirit, which were not part of it. They resided within and made the conscious and willful choices for which, not the body but the thinker responsible for thoughts, words, and deeds, will be held accountable.
Some 250 years ago William Law portrayed a "very prosperous and busy young tradesman" who was "about to die in his thirty-fifth year." The young man had this to say to the friends who came to express their sympathy:
You look upon me with pity, not that I am going unprepared to meet the Judge of quick and dead, but that I am to leave a prosperous trade in the flower of my life.... And yet what folly of the silliest children is so great as this?
Our poor friend Lepidus died...as he was dressing himself for a feast. Do you think it is now part of his trouble that he did not live till that entertainment was over? Feast and business and pleasures and enjoyments seem great things to us-but as soon as we add death to them they all sink into an equal littleness....
If I am now going into the joys of God, could there be any reason to grieve that this happened to me before I was forty years of age? Could it be a sad thing to go to heaven before I had made a few more bargains or stood a little longer behind a counter?
And if I am to go amongst lost spirits, could there be any reason to be content that this did not happen to me till I was old, and full of riches...? Now that judgment is the next thing that I look for, and everlasting happiness or misery is come so near to me, all the enjoyments and prosperities of life seem vain and insignificant....
But my friends, how I am surprised that I have not always had these thoughts...! What a strange thing it is that a little health or the poor business of a shop should keep us so senseless of these great things that are coming so fast upon us!
The tragic person who commits suicide imagines that he is putting an end to his existence with its pains and sorrows. In fact, he is launching himself into what could very well be eternal torment. One of the memories that may torment him the most for eternity will be that he rejected the forgiveness of sins that Christ purchased for him and doubly sealed his righteous doom by throwing away his own life and with it his last chance to be saved!
Through the lives and deaths of two men, Christ describes the two destinies, one or the other of which everyone faces at death. This is not a parable about fictitious people but a true story because one of the characters is named-something Christ never did in His parables. He declared:
...a certain rich man...clothed in purple and fine linen...fared sumptuously every day...[and] a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table....The beggar died [and received a royal welcome by Abraham among the redeemed]. The rich man also died [all the riches in the world will not extend one's life a nanosecond]...and in hell [Gr., hades] he lift[ed] up his eyes, being in torments (Lk 16:19-31).
No matter how long it lasts, this life is very short at best. James said, "It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (Jas 4:14). Moses declared, "for it is soon cut off, and we fly away" (Ps 90:10). Compared with the endless ages of eternity, man's average lifespan is nothing at all. When we live life from this eternal perspective, we clearly see the folly of trading a few short years of pleasure, popularity, and power for eternal torment in the Lake of Fire. As Christ said, it's a shortsighted, bad bargain: "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul" (Mt 16:26)?
Even as a young man, Moses made his choice from an eternal perspective: "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt..." (Heb 11:24-27). In contrast, many a soul has traded eternity in heaven with the Lord for momentary earthly rewards.
Momentary? Yes. Satan showed Christ "all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time" (Lk 4:5). From an eternal perspective, a moment is how long the kingdoms of this world last. Surely, he is a fool who barters an eternal reward in heaven for the fleeting momentary honors that can only be had from Satan, "the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4), by denying the Lord.
It is easy for us to see the vanity of earthly honors in the case of Daniel, whom Belshazzar offered to be "clothed with scarlet, have a chain of gold around [his] neck, and be the third ruler in the kingdom" (Dan 5:16). Daniel wasn't even being asked to compromise his beliefs to receive these honors. Daniel's response was, "Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another" (v 17). He knew that the kingdom would fall in a few hours.
Nevertheless, at Belshazzar's command, "they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation...that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom..." (v 29). This was one of the shortest lived promotions in history! Nor can any reward that this world may offer last any longer in comparison to eternity.
"Give thy rewards to another," should be the Christian's response in the face of every temptation to seek or to accept the praise of men. Sadly, the church has an entire stable of the horses of temporal honors that many Christian leaders love to ride in pride's parade. How many pastors, preachers, authors, and Christian leaders have phony doctorates in front of their names-and even insist on being called by that title, which they basically purchased from a diploma mill. It is a scandal among evangelicals today! They would never have been tempted by such vanity had they kept an eternal perspective.
Nor can anything so motivate us to share the gospel of Christ with others as the same eternal perspective. Each soul we meet is an eternal being who will never cease to exist but will either enjoy eternal bliss in God's presence-or eternal torment. May I, and each Berean, keep that eternal perspective firmly in our hearts. May we seek to rescue as many as we can from the broad road that leads to destruction, bringing them onto the narrow way that leads to life everlasting.