I wrote this as I watched my father-in-law hover between the doors of death and life this summer. This August he “succumbed.” We “lost him,” he “passed away,” he “went home.” We have countless ways of describing death, its finality, and the strange mixture of grief, hope, and helplessness we feel in its wake.
Death happens to everyone, and it is final. There are no do overs, no second chances. But death can also be a door to a new beginning.
I’m republishing this post in a month when we would’ve celebrated the birthdays of both my earthly fathers. (My father has been gone three years now). Happy Birthday, Dads! It’s also the month we celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, whose death and resurrection made it possible for us to say with confidence,
“O death where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”
What if we were meant to live forever, and life on earth was a mere sliver of time, tacked on to the front end of eternity? What if this life was just a drop, about to be swallowed up in the ocean of eternity, a tiny speck in the universe of forever? How would we live?
Maybe we’d worry less about the decades passing, the threat of wrinkles and grey hair. Maybe the sand streaming into the bottom of the hourglass wouldn’t have us frantically drawing up bucket lists. Instead our hearts would beat faster because we’re that much closer to the brink of our true destiny.
What if death did not mean lights out and darkness, but an even brighter, blazing light? What if death was not final sleep, but rather, the true awakening? What if dying was not a slipping away, but a slipping into place, a square peg into a square hole? What if death was only the door to forever?
What if we woke up every morning and went to bed every night thinking about the forever on the other side of the door? Maybe we would be better able to do all things without arguing and complaining, to let bygones be bygones, to live and let live. Maybe we’d stop pointing out flaws, magnifying mistakes, rolling our eyes, and in general making life more miserable than it has to be. We only pass this way once, and it’s all over in a moment.
Maybe we wouldn’t care so much about the setbacks in our job or health, the inconveniences in this life. No matter the hardship, against the measure of eternity, how long does it actually last?
We have small troubles for a while now, but these troubles are helping us gain an eternal glory. That eternal glory is much greater than our troubles. So we think about what we cannot see, not what we see. What we see lasts only a short time, and what we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
What if this brief life is everything about becoming like Christ, allowing the difficulties, the obstacles, to shape us? What if each of us is born into a particular set of circumstances meant to change us in a way unique to us?
What if we really are like clay in the Master Potter’s hands? Can we say to him, Why did you make me like this? Why do you allow this to happen to me? Why did you give or take away? Why are some conceived only to die and some allowed to live for a hundred years? How do we know what we need?
What if God takes each lump of clay and applies the pressure of his thumb or forefinger at certain times and in certain places because he is moving us toward his vision for us, his very own creation? He knows where there should be a spout or handle, whether we must be spread thin or pulled tall. He knows if we should be notched or smooth, and he provides the pressure accordingly.
What if this life is just the preparation for eternity? What if we’re a bride being prepared for her wedding and for the happily-ever-after? We won’t begrudge standing still for the wedding gown fittings. We’ll be patient while the fabric is gathered and tucked to perfection. We won’t mind so much when we miss out on some things or are weary at the end of the day. We happily endure because we know this phase doesn’t last forever, and we’re too busy thinking about the things to come.
We aren’t left to wonder.
Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. (Romans 8:20-21)
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Romans 3:23-25)
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:6-10)
For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. (Romans 10:10)
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)