The Pleasures of Thinking about Death

October 2, 2012

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

 It seems to me that there is a lot of bravado in this world.  I guess that shouldn’t be surprising. A healthy dose of bravado is probably the best method of making sense of this chaotic life.  We all know that we are a mere telephone call from our worlds falling apart.  It is when the telephone actually rings or when the doctor gives the unwanted diagnosis or a myriad of other life chattering news that we may receive that our facades of confidence begin to crumble. Until then, bravado is how most of us deal with the everyday uncertainty of the bad.  We muster up our courage.  We tell ourselves that it is not going to happen to me, at least not today, and we march on. That is bravado, the typical response to our condition. 

 I don’t like spending a lot of time thinking about our condition. Ours is a condition so desperate that it requires every man to be rescued. How troubling is that in a land of individualism and do-it-yourself-ers? The result is that most of us don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about our fundamental condition as we should.

 In fact, every man knows that their condition is desperate when pressed on the question. Death is the condition that we all must deal with.  Death isn’t fun to think about. There are no motivational seminars with death as the theme. However, death is an unrelenting threat to all of mankind. It is the monster that has taken on multiple manifestations from our youth. Death turns every life into a horror movie. It is the inescapable terror, the unappeasable villain, the merciless oppressor, and the omnipresent inhabitant that haunts us all.  We have to think about it because we cannot escape it. We all have to deal with it.  The question is how?

 I have observed that most deal with this threat in a deeply personal and individual manner, often at a subconscious level.  The typical person deals with the reality of death within the context of a personal philosophy.  We have all formulated one, even if we fail to acknowledge it. It shows itself in how we live our lives.  It is present in what we value. It motivates our responses.  It tints what we find beautiful.  It flavors what we love and how we love. Evaluate your life and you will discover your own philosophy to conquer death. Ask yourself:

  •  Why do I care about other people’s opinions?
  • Why do I compete?
  • Why do I get my feelings hurt?
  • Why do I seek security?
  • Why is status important?
  • Why is there value in comfort?
  • Why am I faithful?
  • Why am I responsible?

 The answers to these questions give a hint of your personal, death, conquering philosophy. However, these philosophies are often a mere ointment for a troubled conscience if we concern ourselves to scratch a little deeper.  The failing of most philosophies is that they do not address the true need. The numbers of concocted theories that have been tried are countless. The problem of most is that they don’t go deep enough to the need.  They are simply perfume on a rotting corpse.  It is why emotions can run so high went discussing eternal matters. It is a scary process when a person realizes that their approach to this monumental problem of death is entirely insufficient.

 The true need is that we all must be saved. The approaches that man develops are intricate edifices to impostor saviors. No one wants to hear that. No one will readily accept that. Most people will fight for their impostor savior because that is their bulwark against the terror of a meaningless life, irrelevancy, and death. If we can just matter to someone, then maybe this is all worth it. If I can just be happy, then maybe this is all worth it.

 Reality lies in the history books. The harsh knowledge of what you and I are dealing with is open to us in the past.  My grandparents died several years back.  I remember them as specific people. I remember what made them laugh, how they felt about their family, what they had dealt with and overcame. I don’t remember them as well as my parents do but I still remember them. However, my children don’t remember my grandparents. They never met my grandparents. They know my grandparents as well as I know my parent’s grandparents, which is not at all. My grandparents are merely a branch on a genealogic tree to my kids.  Death stands victorious over my grandparent’s memory in a matter of three generations. The vast majority of us will be forgotten in the same manner.  Some of us may make it four or five generations but is that any comfort? My grandparents needed a savior.  We all needed a savior.

 The history books record a few individuals worthy of society’s remembrance. However, that memory is an illusion. These giants of history may be esteemed by generations, yet their memory is a recording. Death has still won and each generation will supervise the transformation of flesh into stone as great persons become topics of knowledge and study. It is not being saved to be reduced to written lines on paper or maybe a statue. There is no comfort in that. Even the greats of history needed a savior.

 Personal philosophies are created from the onus of our need of a savior.  I am going to die.  Every person that I love and care about is going to die. We all need to be rescued.  How do we deal with that?

 An atheistic philosophy may boldly proclaim its acceptance of the inevitable.  They may believe that there is no savior available.  They may defiantly embrace the cold darkness of the grave.  However, they still seek an escape. They have to have a personal philosophy that enables them to get out of bed in the morning.  Their life, everyone’s life, has to have some meaning in which to continue. Their solution is to seek their value in the meaningfulness of this existence.  It is all that they have.  This world is the best that is available to them.  This is their limited savior. It is their ointment to cool the sting of meaninglessness and eventual death. Yet, there is no escape. It is not a savior. It is pain medication to numb a convulsing conscience gripped by harsh reality.

 Some turn to a secular philosophy, which really is atheism spiced with uncertainty and denial.  They may try to push all these thoughts of our stark reality to the back of their mind. A panacea of family, career, vacations, status, can be a great comfort and escape from such a troublesome question. Will all that I have done save me from death?  They know that it is not likely, yet that doesn’t keep them from hoping.  They like the concept of god. There is that perpetual belief in a god of fairness that holds out the hope that they have been good enough.  A nagging knowledge that this cannot be all there is to life. How do you face that?  You face that with a philosophy that places it’s assurance on fairness.  If my good outweigh my bad, then maybe I will be saved.  It is why so many cling to the idea that man is inherently good when the history of civilization testifies to the direct opposite. The uncertainty of a fragile, works-based, savior is so unsettling that man makes a rationalized response to simply not think about it.

 One might think that there is a respite in religion.  However, the religions of works fall nearly to the same hopeless depths as the atheists and secularists.  Religions of works profess the knowledge of the route to the right savior or saviors to escape the inevitability of death.  These religious systems offer a savior through the performance of the practitioners. The savior is the devout if the devout is truly devout enough. Salvation is dependent upon how well the disciple can adhere to the guidelines of the divine. How much is good enough?  There is no one who is perfect. No one can follow all of the rules flawlessly. Once again, the fragile psyche of the religious is exposed to the unsettling uncertainty of the insufficiency of their savior.

 We are told the answer to this most troubling question. “There is salvation in no one else.”

All of these other personal philosophies are completely inadequate to the task at hand. We all need to be saved. That demands a single, whole-life, savior. Our savior is a life saving truth that is not subject to personalization or customization. We don’t need a philosophy. We need a real savior. We should not want to gamble with a figment of our imagination particularly when we don’t need to. 

 This is the good news that changes everything.  All that has terrorized us in the past is vanquished by this one fact. We can be saved. There is a savior. There is an escape. We live in such a messed up world where the greatest news we could ever receive is routinely thrown away.  The greatest treasure cast aside for a trinket of a personal philosophy. The ultimate reality traded for the imagined. We have a savior.  We no long need to fear death and meaningless. 

 This single truth, there is only one savior, is an optic to help us clearly perceive the world we live in.   The answer to this troubling question is the perspective that is so needed in life. 

 Life can be so confusing and convoluted. 

  •  What should I care about?
  • What should I do?
  • Where should I spend my time?
  • What should I value?
  • Where is the meaning?

 Filter all of those questions through the answer and then you will have the perspective that you so desperately need. The answer is that Christ is the only means of salvation. The things that truly matter; that provide meaning; that are worthy of the investment of our lives revolve around our savior.  All of those other things are not bad. In fact, they may be very good but they should never be viewed as a savior. They gain their true valve only when they are engaged through our savior. That is perspective. Maturity in this truth moderates our response to life, to wrongs, to slights, to quarrels, to successes and triumphs, to everything. Only a life centered on the one and only savior will bring everlasting meaning to our lives. There is salvation in no one else.

 That should illicit a response of living for eternity. Since we have a savior, this is only the beginning. Life does not end at death. Consider how meaningful your life accomplishments will seem when you have spent a thousand years in the presence of the one and only savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.   Consider how meaningful your failures and suffering will seem when you have spent three millenniums engrossed in the glory of the Father. That should change what we value and care about.  That should change where we invest our lives.  Living for eternity enables us to boldly face death and declare, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting”. We can proclaim that because we have the true savior from our greatest terror.

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