Recently while on a flight, I watched the movie Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. It wasn’t a kid’s movie considering the theme, language, and depictions. The movie focuses on death and how many of us try to resolve the tension of facing our own death by denying it or living in fear of it. I found it intriguing.
I know many people are afraid of death while others live in denial of their own mortality. Ironically, even many followers of Christ struggle with one of these two extremes. They live their lives denying the inevitable fact that we will all die sooner or later.
I came to face my own inevitable death through two events in my mid-forties. The first was when I was run over by a car. I was fortunate to have lived through the event. As I was in shock in the ambulance on the way to the ER, the EMS worker told me so. I distinctly remember the sobering thought that I could have died settling deep in my brain. I also realized that I would die someday. From that moment on, I have viewed life as a gift, not as a privilege.
The second event was walking my mother through a seven-year journey with terminal cancer; she died at 68. She showed me how to live in many ways, but she also showed me how to die. Her faith, grace, kindness, and insight through the process deepened my perspective of my own physical death. Considering I will be 69 in a few months, this is also sobering.
Recently, my son attended a funeral for a follower of Christ, which was somber, sad, with no one talking; it was just quiet remorse and grief. They shared stories of celebration, but the general atmosphere was subdued and melancholy.
Grief is real and healthy. Over the years, I have found that the grief we experience in the loss of someone close is directly related to the love we exchanged in life. In other words, the deeper our love and appreciation for a person, the greater our grief will be when they physically die. But as followers of Christ, this is not the end! And we are headed to a much, much better place.
Robert Roberts discussed the problem of Christians not wanting to die over 40 years ago in his book: Spirituality and Human Emotions. He stated that many Christians are afraid of death because they think they have it so good here that they don’t want to leave this world. Obviously, this results from the fallacy that they think this is as good as it gets because they have a very poor perception of what heaven is like.
We do have more amenities and pleasures at our disposal today than at any time throughout history. But this is a poor substitute for life eternal. Our poor perception of this quality of life is because we don’t know much about what life after death will be like. There is a dark veil that we cannot pierce. The Bible has very little to say about what this state or quality of life will exactly be like. Will the streets really be covered in gold? (Revelation 21.21) I doubt it, but because gold was one of the most precious materials in the day that John wrote this depiction, it is an apt description of how the beauty and quality of this experience will far exceed what we can dream or imagine.
As I read the entirety of Scripture and not a few isolated passages, I see God creating us as unique creatures with perfect propensities, personalities, and potentialities. As we see in Jesus’ body after the resurrection: he ate food, walked through walls, and was recognizable to his friends. I believe the same will be true for us, our eternal souls will be embodied. And a really cool body.
We will not worship God forever by sitting on a cloud with wings and playing the harp. Nor will we stand forever in some kind of church service singing songs. We will worship our Creator by being whom he created us to be and doing what we were uniquely called to do. And we will get to do all of this without sin, brokenness, and frustration. This sense of eternity is portrayed from the first few chapters of the Bible in Genesis to the last chapters of the Bible cited above in Revelation. Beyond that, we don’t know much, despite what many writers or artists throughout the Middle Ages attempted to depict.
Dallas Willard liked to say, “God is the most joyous being in the universe,” which always shocked people to hear. But the Trinity is not grim. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are alive and filled with joy.”* I believe our time with God after this life as we know it will be a blast…God is not a cosmic killjoy! Rather, he is exceptionally creative, I can only imagine what it will be like:
- It will be fun and challenging for sure. (Think of your favorite sport or activity)
- It will be productive and rewarding for sure. (Think of a time when you were “in the zone” as you worked on a project)
- It will be intimate and friendly for sure. (Think of your closest long-term friendships)
- It will be beautiful and awe-inspiring for sure. (Think of the Grand Canyon)
- It will be technologically advanced beyond our comprehension for sure. (Think of the molecular structure of our world—i.e. Quantum Mechanics)
- It will be stimulating and exciting for sure. (Think of sex)
- It will be safe and secure for sure. (Think of your happy place)
- It will be delicious and guilt-free for sure. (Think of your favorite dessert)
- It will be natural and easy for sure. (Think of something you do often with no effort)
- It will be relaxed and unhurried for sure. (Think of your best vacation)
- It will be mobile and free for sure. (Think of a butterfly)
- It will be soft and delicate for sure. (Think of a flower)
- It will be sparkling and resilient for sure. (Think of a diamond)
- It will be vast and ever-growing (Think of our cosmos)
We don’t know a lot of the details of what our time in eternity will be like, but we do have a foretaste of our time in eternity through the hints we find in creation around us and in our own souls within us. God has created our souls to be embodied here on earth, and we will have new, really cool bodies forever. They won’t decay but give us clearly a sense of our own identity and distinctness. Think of the capacities of our brain unencumbered by sin, disease, or junk food!
I am looking forward to moving on. As Paul writes to the Philippians in Philippians 1:21 (NIV) For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. He basically says that he wants to go on to be in eternity because it is so much better there than on Earth. But, as long as he is here on Earth, he will be with Christ and do the things that Christ desires for the benefit of others.
These verses inform my view of death. I hope you all celebrate my life as it was lived here on earth. Don’t feel sorry for me, as I will be enjoying so much more than you can imagine. And don’t feel sorry for yourselves who are left behind. There is so much left to do. Live life like it may be your last day on earth. Create what needs to be created. Invest in those who need your time. Love those who need your love today. Encourage those whom you can lift up today. Smile at those you meet today. Be the person God created you to be amid a broken, dying, and fallen world. This is not the end!
The one thing of which we can be sure is if we have accepted God’s grace, loved him through faith, and allowed his love to work in and through us, we will have time without time to live the life we were created to experience. Now that is good news!
*The Good and Beautiful You, by James Bryan Smith, page 212