Sudden Death Undertime
By Audrey Stallsmith
The spate of recent shootings by both terrorists and madmen highlight the fact that any of us could die at any time. As the recent funerals of a couple members of my church prove, most of us actually are more likely to perish from disease or accidents than from assassins’ bullets. But, barring the return of Christ in the meantime, all us are going to die.
No amount of purchased protection can buy us out of that. As Helmut Thielicke writes in Death and Life, “Wanting to be ‘secure’ means to exist on the basis of untruth.” In other words, there is no security down here.
Death is daunting to most of us, including Christians, just because we sense that it’s unnatural. As Thielicke notes, “man’s mortality is rooted not in creation but in his fall from creation. Thus death is not of the created order; it is disorder.”
Therefore, we fight for life as long as possible. I suspect also that, no matter when our cessation comes, most of us will feel that we haven’t accomplished enough. Death always seems especially unfair when it happens to young people who haven’t had time to achieve many goals.
To overcome such natural fears, we need to get it into our heads that our salvation is not based upon our own accomplishments but upon those of Christ. And all of that was finished a couple thousand years ago. If we have dedicated our lives to Him and claimed that redemption, we are ready to go whether we believe we are or not.
Thielicke points out that all the things and people we have gathered around us will be stripped from us at the moment of death anyway. That will leave only what is most essential, our relationship to God. “Man’s personhood,” Thielicke writes, “comes into existence only in his history with God and in God’s addressing him.”
Therefore, death will reveal whether we are real beneath all the trappings. It is our connection or our lack of connection to the only true eternal life—God’s—which will determine whether we experience eternal life or eternal death.
Of course, that can be scary too, as our relationship with God isn’t as easily assessed as are our relationships with people we actually can see and hear. How can we be sure then that our connection to God is adequate when we often can’t even feel his presence?
It helps to know that more accomplished Christians have experienced similar bafflements. After his wife’s death, C. S. Lewis felt abandoned by God and Mother Theresa too struggled with her own dark night of the soul. Fortunately, they understood that faith required them to continue serving God regardless of what they felt at the time. After all, in Proverbs 8:17, God promises us, “I love all who love me. Those who search for me shall surely find me.”
Such a search probably won’t win us much acclaim down here, as even well-known Christians often leave this life almost unheeded. Because Lewis passed away on the same day as Kennedy’s assassination, his death was obscured by the shock and confusion surrounding the death of the American president.
Lewis probably wouldn’t have minded, as he was aware of the fickleness of fame. So he thought it far more important to please God than man. “After I’ve been dead for five years,” he once said, “no one will read anything I’ve written.” Fortunately, he was wrong about that. Although he was mortal, the subjects he addressed weren’t.
Like him, we need to keep believing in something we’ll never be able to fully experience down here. What God told the Jewish exiles in Jeremiah 29:10 and 13 applies to us today as well. “You will be in Babylon for a lifetime. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised and bring you home again. . .You will find me when you seek me, if you look for me in earnest.”
During their captivity, the Israelites struggled to keep their true God and their true country ever before their mind while they lived in a foreign land full of idols. We must do the same.
I’ve always suspected that my garden will go back to weeds within a few seasons after my death, as I barely keep ahead of those weeds now. In a similar manner, the tide of time eventually will wash out the spots where we have been. That shouldn’t bother us once we have moved on to a place where time no longer has dominion and where we finally will find Him.