What Does Death Teach Us About the Way We Should Live?

To make the greatest impact in this world, we must keep our eyes focused on eternity with our feet firmly planted in the reality of this present moment. Fixing our eyes on Jesus is the only solution for the brevity and cruelty of life.

What Does Death Teach Us About the Way We Should Live?
Photo by Fey Marin / Unsplash

In the last few months, I've thought a lot about death. It's probably because so many people I've known have died. Since October, I've lost nearly a dozen people who were a significant part of my life at one point.

I think of my childhood neighbor Mae. Given that I never knew my grandparents, she was like one to me. Despite living less than a quarter mile apart, I made it a practice to call her every day. I can still smell the wonderful Finnish food she made and remember the countless hours we spent together ice fishing, hauling wood, or shoveling snow.

I think of Dorothy, the lady who was the strongest supporter of our church in Toronto. After Janan and I moved to Toronto, Dorthy invited us for supper. Over the next few years, we spent so much time with her, and she modeled how someone who was aging in years could still be passionate about reaching others for Christ.

Then there was Brian, a buddy of mine I played hockey with every Saturday. During some of my lowest moments with depression, Brian was a much-needed friend. After Janan and I left East Scarborough, Brian and his wife Sabrina moved into our same area and planted a thriving local congregation – which Sabrina continues to pastor today. I think of Marcus, a young man I used to spend time with in Cincinnati, who was shot while serving as manager of a White Castle restaurant. This list goes on.

Last week, Janan and I traveled to Virginia to mourn the loss of a lady we greatly admired, Janel Keaton. In fact, we've often said that if we could model our style of parenting after one couple, it would be Janel and her husband Troy. The service was powerful and I would encourage you to take a few moments and watch this six-minute clip from Pastor Troy, where he had a conversation with death. Many (including myself) have said it was the most moving funeral message they've ever heard.

Death is sobering. While our childhoods make us feel invincible, the more we age, see loved ones die, and encounter health struggles, the more we realize how temporal life is. David certainly understood this struggle. After choosing to remain silent in the face of wickedness, David writes in Psalm 39:4-6,

“Lord, make me aware of my end
and the number of my days
so that I will know how short-lived I am.
In fact, you have made my days just inches long,
and my life span is as nothing to you.
Yes, every human being stands as only a vapor. Selah
Yes, a person goes about like a mere shadow.
Indeed, they rush around in vain,
gathering possessions
without knowing who will get them.

David shows us that sometimes, the natural response to problems is recognizing our mortality. As Gerald Wilson writes, “The psalmist wishes to know the ‘end’ of his life and the ‘number’ of his days (39:4), not in order to have mastery over life but to gain an appropriate appreciation for the tenuous and fragile nature of human existence.”[1] We are here for a few days, and then we’re gone. Our time is measured.

While many fear becoming “so heavenly minded they become of no earthly good,” the reality is that those who follow God live with this constant dual reality. We enjoy the pleasures of life and wrestle with our pain, all while recognizing there is a life to come. As C.S. Lewis said,

If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.[2]

Thus, to make the greatest impact in this world, we must keep our eyes focused on eternity with our feet firmly planted in the reality of this present moment. How do we do this? The answer is to look to Jesus and walk as the Holy Spirit instructs.

Thankfully, because of the gospel, “we are promised that this earthly life is not all we have. Rather, those united to Christ stand to inherit the entire world (Matt. 5:5; 25:34; 1 Cor. 3:21). Here and now, we are 'sojourners,' strangers (Ps. 39:12). But it will not always be so.”[3]

Fixing our eyes on Jesus is the only solution for the brevity and cruelty of life. It’s because of him that this life has meaning, and it’s because of him that our life to come is filled with hope. So how much do you want him? I'll end with this thought-provoking question from John Piper.

The critical question for our generation— and for every generation— is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?[4]

Without Jesus, the sting of death is unbearable. With Jesus, the hope for our future shines brighter every day.

[1]Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms Volume 1, The NIV Application Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 627.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Collier Books, 1960), 118.

[3]Bryan Chapell, eds. Gospel Transformation Study Bible Notes. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), paragraph 2305.

[4] John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 15