“So I’m dying… faster than everyone else.” These are the words of Claire Wineland in the trailer of a new documentary about her life. Claire is a popular face on YouTube, an online video community, as she has shared her story of growing up with cystic fibrosis. Some of her most engaging talks deal with her perspective of living with the imminence of death. Claire explains, “When I was born, I had a life expectancy of 5 years old. And then it moved to 10 years old. And then it moved to 13 years old. And then it moved to 18 years old…” She explains how the eventuality of her death has always been in the back of her mind; yet she must find ways to live in the moment, not allowing the thought of death completely consume her.
This is a topic relevant to us all as death is, in fact, a part of the grand scheme of life. It is the ultimate statistic: 10 out of 10 people will die. So perhaps, the question we must consider is, “Are you ready to die?” Now, this is not intended to be a morbid thought experiment, but rather an important aspect of self-reflection. It is possible that some of you are living your last days. Some readers may know they are in their last days and others may not. In truth, no one really knows how much time they have left. Still, the question remains pertinent: “Are you ready to die?”
The knowledge of impending death is often romanticized in popular music and films. So when an individual learns he has an incurable disease, he is told to live those last few days with great joy and passion. One country song says, “I went skydiving. I went Rocky Mountain climbing. I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu…” I’m not saying that is the wrong response, I’m just wondering how realistic it is.
Wrestling with the reality of death is not new. People of every place and time have spent moments wondering about what happens after we die. Do we just cease to exist? Do we go to some sort of an afterlife? How can one truly know?
Writing around the year 380 BC, the Greek philosopher Plato constructs an interesting dialogue in his book The Republic on this very topic. The conversation is between his teacher Socrates and an older man named Cephalus. As they speak about aging and wealth, Cephalus moves the discussion to the reality of death and how people think about death as it slowly, but truly approaches.
“When a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true.” In other words, what is to come of me when I die?
One of the most famous lines in all of Shakespeare’s plays comes from Act 3 of Hamlet. In this scene the prince of Denmark cry’s out, “To be, or not to be? That is the question.” Hamlet considers whether life is worth living anymore. Is it “nobler” to go through the pain and suffering of life? Or perhaps death would be a nice escape from hardship. “To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in the sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this moral coil… Must give us pause.” Again, what is to come of me when I die?
I am not trying to belabor the question incessantly. I only intend to make sure that we all take this question seriously before it is too late. You see, while we may personally not know what exactly happens when we die, there is One who does. One of the central claims of historic, biblical Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. So central to the Christian faith is this truth that the Apostle Paul declares that if Jesus did not truly rise from the dead, then Christians are simply fools wasting their lives (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14). However, if Christ did truly rise from the grave, then all of His words and teaching are instantly vindicated. He knows what is to come.
“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).” This alone, like death itself, is bad news. The gospel is the good news that God has made a way for broken sinners such as myself to be made right with Him through faith in Christ alone. The gospel is made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) Jesus lived a perfect life, died the death we deserve, and rose again defeating sin and death; when we turn from our sins and believe in what Jesus has accomplished for us we can be certain that we have eternal life. That death from this life is not the end. Do you have this hope?
Sadly, Claire Wineland died September 2018 at the age of 21 due to a stroke after complications with a double lung transplant. Life is truly a precious gift. While Claire lived knowing that death could come at any moment, we often do not. So take some time today and think about this topic. Again, ask yourself, “Am I ready to die?”
Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ