The older we become, the more aware we are of the specter of death. When we are young, relatively few people whom we personally know die. As we grow older, that number increases.
Many of us grow more aware of death because we realize we have fewer days before us than we have behind us. Youth sees death as little more than a possibility. Young people realize death can and does occur, and sometimes they even have a friend who dies. Still, the young person sees that he or she probably has several decades ahead, and that is probably true.
The older we become, the less theoretical and the more real death becomes. The apparent invincibility of youth becomes gradually replaced with an awareness that our days are numbered.
How do we to deal with the prospect of our inevitable demise? Some have plastic surgery, as if looking younger externally will do anything for one’s aging organs and bones. Others live in denial, refusing to think about death. Still others look to medicine or exercise or nutrition in order to postpone what is coming. And still death comes.
How should a Christian face the prospect of death? It seems that we need to change the focus. Instead of focusing upon death, we need to focus on life. The One whom we follow is life. The apostle John proclaimed, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). We were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), “but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (2:4–5). We were dead. Christ has given us life.
This exchange recorded in John 14:1–6 between Jesus and his anxious disciples should be encouraging to us when we consider death. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas asked Jesus a question that may have been on all the disciples’ minds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas wanted to know how this was going to be worked out, but Jesus told him to look deeper: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
How we pass from this world to the next is not to be our concern. Our gaze is steadily to be on Christ. The One who is life, the One who conquered sin and death, the One who saved us from our death and gave us life will have us ushered into his presence.
Such a change in perspective is not living in denial of death and it is not a psychological crutch to get us through tough times. Death is real. Unless Christ returns during our lifetime, we will experience death. We shall not escape its reality. The heart will produce its final beat; the lungs will draw their final breath. We may die in great physical agony, or we may go quietly in the night. Regardless, we shall go.
And yet we focus not upon our coming death as though that were a time of doom. We focus upon Christ. He is our life. He has saved us, is saving us, and will save us from our sins and from the tyranny of death (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-57).
So we focus upon life, and that focus means that we dwell not on death but upon living. We are “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” now. We are to live life to the fullest now, intentionally seeking to honor God with our desires and plans and choices. A thought penned centuries ago by London preacher Josias Shute [1588-1643]: “A musician is commended not that he played so long, but that he played so well. And thus it is not the days of our life, but the goodness of our life. . . . that is acceptable unto God Almighty.” The apostle Paul put it another way, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).