Well over the last couple of months I have sadly been to a couple of memorial services for people who seemed to leave this life much too early. And that caused me to sit up and think about the way that we think about life, even as Christians.
We all know that our lives down here are finite: they have a beginning, and they will have an end. We each know that we will have to leave this earth someday. So why does it always come as such a huge devastating blow when someone does leave? It is like it comes like a fresh shock every time to have to acknowledge that yet another person we have known and loved is actually mortal, and capable of dying.
I was thinking about a new perspective to embrace regarding our lives, especially as Christians: it is like we are on mission down here on earth. If we look around us, everyone else is also on mission. This includes everyone we know, everyone in our families, our closest friends, everyone in our churches, everyone we love. The thing though is that no-one knows how long his or her mission will be, or how long anyone else’s mission will be, before we are called home. Actually, this is essentially what the Bible says of course about life as a Christian.
If we knew how long our missions were going to be, then that would make life a lot more convenient, in that we could plan our projects accordingly, schedule our goodbyes. If our earthly lives were terminated not by physical death, but rather by climbing into big gleaming spaceships to carry us off to the other end of the universe, then it would be easier to appreciate the point; that this time on earth is simply temporary, that our friends are still alive, but now in another dimension; that we can look forward to seeing them again. I think our big difficulty is because from our current perspective, we cannot see eternity, we cannot touch it, we cannot truly comprehend it. Even as Christians who have put all our faith and trust into the teaching of the Bible, from our current perspective, we cannot help feeling that life here on earth is “the real thing”, and that once our friends are lost to us on earth, then they have essentially been lost forever.
The Bible says that “He (God) has put eternity into the hearts of men.” Ecclesiastes 3v11. I believe that this means that even while we are alive down here, we have a deep unspeakable understanding that our souls are immortal. I believe that that is why physical death always comes as a shock, because it shakes this knowledge in our hearts.
When someone physically dies on earth then all that truly defines them seems to evaporate. You can never again think of them smiling or laughing or being alive because their physical body is no longer capable of doing these things. And yet if we thought that our friends were simply in a different country, then we could happily think of them as being alive. Well this is what I think death represents for a Christian – remaining alive, but in a different realm. I’m finding this as a powerful way to think about my life here on earth – not as “the real thing” but rather as a mission which will one day have an end: you come here, you do your thing, you go home! But then when I look around me, I think that everyone else is also on a mission. Everyone else’s mission will also have an end one day. None of us know how much time we will share with anyone else down here on earth. We all hope to have long fruitful lives down here on earth. When we meet people that we like, we hope that we will be able to share lots of time together with them. However, some of us will be given longer-term missions, and some of us will be given shorter-term missions. We have to make the most of what time we have been given, not knowing how long it will be. So I guess part of the point is that we also have to celebrate one another while we have each other, before your mission ends, or mine. Because we have needs down here on earth, we have to plan for the long term in things like marriage, so it always comes as a shock when those plans don’t materialise, when other people’s missions are terminated earlier than we would have liked. When other people, sometimes less deserving, or so it would seem, effortlessly enjoy long lifetimes with their loved ones, we cannot help feeling cheated when we lose our own loved ones too soon. And yet we all know that the length of our earthly lives is not a reflection of how good we are. Jesus was younger than I am when He died – and He is God!
It is always sad to have to say our final goodbyes to friends. However this is not the real thing, this is not the end, let us take comfort in the fact that our friends are still alive – if they are Christians. For those of us who are still on the mission field, who are still running our race, let us make the most of the time we have here, to excel in the mission that God has given us. Then when it is time for us too to say goodbye, then we can confidently climb into our own shiny spaceships, and fly back to be with our King and Commander-in-Chief. And let us not be surprised when someone else’s mission ends, perhaps earlier than we might have liked. It was always going to end, and we would always prefer to have a longer time to be with someone. If we understand from the outset that life on earth is temporary, then it should help to minimise the shock when someone does get called home. And let us also not get freaked out by the physical dying of someone’s body. That is simply where the body is separated from the real spirit of the person; the fact that the body is dead does not change the fact that the real person continues to be alive, to laugh, to sing, but just not in our presence anymore, what is being buried or cremated is simply the physical entity that housed the spirit.
All that said, I still believe in raising the dead though! I also think that the devil can work to truncate our earthly lifespans, and we can in our turn work against his efforts through prayer.
2 Corinthians 4v17-18
17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 5v1
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
(I’m sure that the Apostle Paul would also have used the analogy of a spaceship, if spaceships had existed back during his own mission!)
Image of Earth in Space by Geralt on Pixabay