You know the stock phrases spoken at funerals.
“Her sufferings are now over,” we say of the woman who’s long been ill.
“He’s in a better place,” we say of the guy whose heart suddenly gave out.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” we say to grieving parents or the spouse.
But the most popular, unspoken thought is this: “Thank God it’s not me in that coffin.”
Nobody’s crass enough to say this, of course. But you’ll find few volunteers to swap places with the corpse. We’re happy being alive, or at least OK with it.
We’re old pros at rearranging the furniture in our lives to avoid the mortal elephant in the room. Put the couch here and the TV there so the beast is out of sight, out of mind. All 12,000 pounds may be looming behind us, but we’ll just keep our eyes glued on Netflix and pretend he’s not there.
But the elephant of our approaching funeral is going nowhere.
We will die.
The only real question is whether we’ll live before we do.
Our core, foundational fear is death. It effects virtually every decision we make, from childhood on. And it’s the engine behind our “immortality projects.”
At some point, usually early on, the inevitably of mortality crashes our party. Our bodies bleed and break; they stink when we don’t wash them; they fill the bathroom with vile odors; they get flabby, wrinkled, and feeble. We begin to die the moment we are conceived.
And the moment we conceive the reality of this truth, we concoct elaborate schemes to cheat death somehow. We create immortality projects.
These projects are our means of ensuring that “we have achieved something of lasting worth,” (E. Becker). We sire or birth children who will carry on our name and memory. We build a business. We fight in a war. We try to be a hero. At a bare minimum, we endeavor to be liked, to fit in, to be socially applauded, so that we’ll live on in people’s fond memories of us. “Remember Charlie? He was good guy. Hard worker. Family man.” Yeah, but Charlie—he’s still dead.
In the meantime, while fostering our immortality projects, we avoid the reality of our approaching death by thinking of everything but it. We “tranquilize ourselves with the trivial,” (Kierkegaard). Choosing the most flattering filter for our Instagrammed lives. Staring at iScreens for hours. Counting “likes.” Shopping, sexing, or working ourselves into a vanishing veneer of happiness.
But inside us The Truth, like a mouse in the attic of our mind, scratches and chews and won’t go away. We may achieve phenomenal success, earn truckloads of cash, rack up trophies galore, or simply be a good ‘ole boy—but none of our immortality projects slows or stops the approaching footsteps of death.
DYING BEFORE WE DIE
The only recourse we have is to die before we die. To give up on a fake-life. To acknowledge that this stupid, selfish game we’re playing with our immortality projects has zero success. No amount of work, sex, money, fame, heroism, or likability will help us. We can’t help ourselves. Others can’t help us. The Cosmos can’t help us. All our vain attempts to find meaning, significance, purpose are self-serving and thus self-defeating.
So give up and confess that you’re dead before you’re dead.
What you’ll find in that painful truth will shock you. In that death the God of life will find you. An outside-of-you creator who—if he specializes in anything—specializes in un-deading the dead. He rummages through the trash heaps of humanity to find people who are dead before they’re dead and to bring them back to life with his own life.
To die before we die is to begin to live in him who is Life.
How he loves to do just that. To usher us by an unseen hand into giving up, that he might give us up into himself, that in him we might truly begin to live. In him is a strange, bewildering hope that finds purpose external to me, me, me. In the Father’s Son, we find a seemingly lunatic God who loves us. Us! He destroys our addiction to our immortality projects by plunging us into the crucified mortality of his Son and raising us up with him. And in him we find not an immortality project but immortality itself—life with no final chapter, life with no limits, life swimming in Life itself.
To die before we die is to begin to live in him who is Life. And in this one, in Jesus, we are given what we yearned for all along. Purpose. Hope. Love. Joy. A meaning to our lives. A future beyond our funeral. A place in this world outside our little microcosms of egoism. In Jesus we are in God, and in God we are in that “something of lasting worth” in which human fulfillment is found.