In our pluralistic culture, it’s truly difficult to find much common ground between different groups of people. For example, in what ways are right wing fundamentalists, libertarians, and left wing socialists the same? Is there any common ground between religious hate groups and the people they hate? With the number of polarizing issues and worldviews marking the cultural landscape of America, it really is tough to find relatable common ground between you and someone you disagree with on every conceivable and important idea.
However, in my recent experience leading a non-Christian family through a funeral service and counseling them through the early days of the death of their loved one, it has become clear to me that we all relate to one another through four given expectations.
- We all want to live a reasonably pleasant, comfortable, and enjoyable life. We want to flourish in work, play, and home.
- None of us wants to die. But we all know death is coming. And none of us knows when it’s coming. True, some of us believe death is nothing more than a channel to an abyss of utter nothingness. Others believe death is a channel to true gain and lasting joy. But none of us wants to die, though we all know we will.
- We all want our lives to count. We want to matter. We want people to remember us with affection and miss our presence when we’re gone. We want to leave the world a better place than when we were born. We want to make our mark on the world through the things we believe, say, and do.
Because of these four things, the way you live your life and the way you view your death are absolutely crucial! So much so, that I tremble as I approach this topic. It is no small thing to talk about the way you live your life and the way you view your death. Both of these topics are offensive to think about and offensive to talk about. It is offensive to presume to tell someone how to live his or her life and it is offensive to tell someone how to view his or her death.
In fact, if there are two topics that are most uncomfortable for us to discuss with our families and friends, they are life and death. This is why we excel at small talk. This is why we make excuses for those we care about when they live recklessly. This is why we avoid visiting cemeteries and gloss over the reality of death by reminiscing good memories of the deceased. But the truth is, the most important realities in your life and my life are the way we live and the way we die.
And the pressing questions that come from this consideration are these: Can you find lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death? And, will you waste your life? I believe there is no other worldview, no other religion, and no other philosophy that probes these issues, which can provide an adequate answer to these questions. But, in the Christian faith we find answers to these questions that surpass all of our desires and fulfill all of our deepest longings.
The way we live and the way we die are directly impacted by whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus informs us on what a wasted and unwasted life looks like. It also shows us where lasting joy can be found.
The way we live and the way we die must center on Christ. A Christ-centered perspective of life and death is the perspective that brings joy to the heart and purpose to life in the midst of tragedy and turmoil. True human flourishing in life and human conquering in death are only possible if it is true that a man named Jesus from Nazareth actually died and actually came back from the dead.
Lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death are only found in an empty tomb and in a risen Savior. The resurrection of Jesus directly impacts the way we live our lives and the way we approach our deaths. God glorifies himself and brings his people joy in the death and resurrection of his Son.
It is an endless quest to seek to find fulfillment in those three basic desires in anything other than Christ. And that’s not just smug, my-way-is-best-so-deal-with-it talk. That’s real talk. Consider where you find most happiness in life. If you are trying to fabricate or manufacture happiness, or flourish by working yourself to death to prove yourself to others, you will be both exhausted and unfulfilled. And no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise, thinking about your death scares the life out of you. You know death is coming. But the fact you don’t know when you die and you have no control over how you die scares you to death. Only in Jesus can we find certainties in and beyond death. Only in Jesus can we face death with hope.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.