The culture of death is so prevalent in our society—just look at TV shows like CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, and so many others that have a voyeuristic obsession with corpses, and the myriad ways by which a person can be killed or die (like 1001 Ways to Die, a warped show on Spike TV), with a voracious appetite in forensics, motive, means, and so forth.
The Bible gives us a solid foundation and perspective on life and death in Psalm 90:12 when it says, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”
How old are you? Your answer is relative! If we knew the “number of our days,” we could then accurately answer how old we are. For example, I’m 52. My father died at the age of 55. If I follow in his footsteps and die at the same age, then right now, I’m very old. I’ve got less than three years to live!
The undeniable fact is we will all one day die. What should we think of that, and how should we prepare ourselves? And how could we help someone else die if we haven’t spent time considering our own mortality?
The Message Bible’s paraphrase of Psalms 90:12 is spot-on regarding this point: “Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well!”
When we have properly contemplated our own mortality and patiently considered the brevity of our lives—then we will learn wisdom. We will learn to “live wisely and well!”
While dying well is often a matter of living well, to live well we must come to grips with our death. It’s difficult, but it can also be invigorating. One preacher concluded, “It is only by facing and accepting the reality of my coming death that I can become authentically alive.”
If you knew that tomorrow night at 10 p.m. you were going to die, what would you do? If you knew that tomorrow was the last day of your life, what would you do? How would you spend that day?
Kristin Armstrong was married to the seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. After their very public and contentious divorce, she wrote a book called Happily Ever After. She wrote it to help women recover from the trauma of divorce. In one entry she addresses our subject. She writes:
“If I knew tomorrow was the last day of my life, I would get up early. I would make coffee and have my prayer time before the kids woke up. I would praise God for all the days He gave me. I would snuggle my children and make pancakes for breakfast in the midst of noise and chaos in my kitchen. I would pack lunches, braid hair, find shoes, brush teeth, and hand out backpacks. I’d probably drive to school in my pajamas.”
She continues, “I’d pray a blessing over my children in the car and kiss everyone. After I was alone, I’d go running. I’d feel my lungs and legs burn and notice the way the sunlight filters through the trees along Town Lake. I would try to meet a girlfriend for coffee. I would call my parents and my brother to say, ‘Hi, how are you? I love you.’”
And then Kristin concludes, “In other words, on my final day, I would do the same exact things I do every day. I would live the life I am living right now. If I had to choose, I’d choose what I have.”
That’s the testimony of someone who realizes their days are numbered, and they have subsequently learned to live wisely and well.
If you’re afraid or unwilling to talk about death, to consider your death, then I’m certain you have yet to fully live. My point is, in order to live well you must come to grips with your death.
In his helpful book The Art of Dying Well: Living Fully Into the Life to Come, Rob Moll writes, “Death deserves our attention in life. Because we instinctively want to avoid it, to turn our face away: It is good to look death in the eye and constantly remind ourselves that our hope is in God, who defeated death.” What you behold you become.
As the author of Hebrews so eloquently put it, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2, NIV).
Hank Lamb is senior pastor of Central Christian Church in Richardson.