God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
“I am going to die!”
At some point, all of us will say this or come to grips with this inevitable truth. It’s called an existential crisis when we are confronted by the reality that we will all die and we are faced with the questions, “Is there any meaning in life if all we are left with is death? How are we to live in the face death and chaos?”
This past year has caused all of us to confront our mortality and meaning. The pandemic removed the veneer of our comfort and control and forced us to face the specter of death. Furthermore, we have been forced to face ourselves and our character under the added pressures of pandemic precautions and perspectives, racial injustices and tension, and political polarization. When faced with death and the loss of our control, we have seen our human insecurity and depravity exposed. One hundred years ago, our forefathers were reminded of this fact during the two world wars. The enlightenment fantasies of human beings evolving toward some kind of utopia were crushed under the global atrocities committed in every continent.
Thousands of years ago the philosopher King Solomon faced this question and initially concluded, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)
William Shakespeare, in "Macbeth," poetically penned:
“Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The apostle Paul followed the meaninglessness of life under death without life after death to its logical conclusion. If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Corinthians 15:32) If death is the final punctuation on this life, then live however you want to, however you feel — you’re the king or queen of your life. You only live once!
We are either part of a greater story with meaning and purpose, or you are part of an empty void responsible for staring death in the face and making your own meaning from your experience. An increasing prevalent philosophy today claims that your personal experience is the ultimate authority for truth. There is no absolute truth, only “your truth.” Therefore, we are responsible for making our own meaning in this finite life. We are each the final authority for creating and determining our meaning, purpose and value.
Take a moment to process this line of thinking. This thought process is increasingly prevalent today and growing in acceptance and enforcement. It is based upon the faulty premise that we human beings are ultimately good and psychologically, spiritually, relationally or morally healthy.
However, given our human behavior over the last year or last 100 years, consider how dangerous and destructive it is to leave us to ourselves to determine truth, meaning and our value based on our feelings or experience. If I feel or believe my life or someone else’s life is futile, that is my truth. Consequently, you can imagine the courses of action that consequently follow.
If applied logically and consistently this philosophy will only perpetuate the polarization, corruption, hate, oppression, chaos and death already prevalent in this world. Fortunately, we are not left to our own devices to make sense of a life punctuated by death. Whether you are a Christian or not, we can all agree that there is something inside us convinced there is meaning in this life — there is hope to rise up, live and love in the face of our finitude. However, we may not know why.
King Solomon saw that from human experience alone, this life is ultimately meaningless. He looked beyond human wisdom to see there is more to this life than the death, decay and chaos we see. God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Even within our fallible experience, we can discern The Infinite; we know there is more to this life. This season leading up to Easter, we are reminded of Jesus’ historical death and resurrection. In fact, Jesus stated his purpose for living was to die, to face death in our place and to make everything beautiful for all time. Jesus Christ’s historical life, death and resurrection changes everything. EVERYTHING!
In light of Jesus’ resurrection, the apostle Peter explains that we have hope for this life in the midst of suffering, injustice and human atrocities. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
“Living Hope!” This means we have God-given eternal meaning, purpose and value. We don’t have to create our meaning and value; it was always there from our Creator and Savior. With living hope we can face death and live with resilience. We can stare death down and not succumb to survival, self-centeredness, fighting for control or being crippled by anxiety. We can love our enemies, we can sacrifice ourselves to benefit others, we can forgive, we can love others who are not like us. We can live in this world with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
Pastor and scholar Tim Keller puts this in perspective, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said. If he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism)
Living hope is not just a philosophy or an ideal; it is God who became human. His name is Jesus. He conquered death so you could live for eternity with Him. He wants to live in you now so that though you die in this life you may truly live both in this life and in the next.
So, in the end the question isn’t what do you do with death, but what will you do with Jesus?
Scott Barber is senior pastor at Worthington's Grace Community Church.