I have experienced an awful lot of dying in my world recently. People that I know, friends and family of people that I know, one after another, many people in my world are dying lately.
Frankly, from the moment we are born, we begin to die. This isn’t a pleasant thought, but this is where my head is going as I read my Facebook feed, offering condolences, prayers and thoughts, one after another.
Our cells begin to die off from the moment we are born. Sure, they regenerate. Our cells die off and regenerate throughout our lives. As our lives go on, however, the dying process speeds up, it picks up in intensity, the dying outpaces the regeneration and it results, eventually, in our natural deaths… if something doesn’t kill us sooner.
It could be depressing to think about. On the other hand, it is natural. This is the way it is.
Why do we even care?
Really, why does death bother us so much? Does my dog think about dying?
If death is simply a fact, a matter of life, a natural phenomenon, what’s gotten into our heads about it? How do we explain our preoccupation with death?
The writer of Ecclesiastes, an ancient book, says, “God set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
This is one explanation: If God exists (and I believe God does exist), that might explain why humans, natural beings like all the other animals, have such a unique fixation on death, posterity and life after death that other animals don’t seem to have.
Of course, a skeptic might question why God made us like this. Why did He make as we are, conscious of our mortality, able to grasp the possibility of eternity, but trapped in these dying bodies?
When we consider the heartache death causes for us, we have to wonder, “Why would God allow it?! Is he not all-powerful? Is He not good?”
If there is a God, what gives?
As with a desire to live, I have desires like hunger, thirst, sex, and more subtle desires like a desire for meaning and love. My temporal experiences tell me that food exists to sate my hunger, and water exists to quench my thirst. Sex exists to satisfy the urge for physical intimacy. I find meaning in various aspects of life and I have feelings of love – love that is sometimes unrequited.
And there is the rub – like the desire for eternity that will be snubbed at our deaths, none of these desires I have are ever completely satisfied. I am left wanting.
If I eat or drink, I will be hungry and thirsty again. If I have sex, I will desire it again, and as many times as I satisfy this desire, something else nags at me, suggesting that the physical pleasure I have had is not the thing I really want. I accumulate things, but there is always something else I want, something I “need”. For whatever meaning I find, it is never really enough, never really fulfilling the deepest longings I have. Love, as we commonly think of it, is fleeting at best.
And in the end, this flawed, temporal life is meaningless if we all do is live and die. We may never truly be satisfied. The initial thrill or pleasure is never matched, the subsequent thrills or pleasures wane in intensity. We may never find the meaning and love we really long for. We can’t take any of the things we accumulate in this life beyond the grave. Justice goes unabated. Life isn’t fair.
Life doesn’t just seem meaningless; sometimes it seems cruel. We have been given a taste, a sense, of what will satisfy our desires, but never the fulfillment – a taste of the possibility of eternal life, but death perpetually reminds us of the futility of our existence.
If none of the pleasures of this life ultimately satisfy, I might conclude that this life is ultimately meaningless; of God exists maybe it’s even a cruel joke or a fraud. In fact, this seemed to be the conclusion of the writer of Ecclesiastes (1:1, 8, 11)
Everything is meaningless.
“The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
“No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.”
Pleasure is meaningless, accumulation of things is meaningless, even wisdom is meaningless if all we do is die in the end. The prophet Isaiah and Paul both echoed these same words, suggesting if this life is all there really is, “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die”. (Isaiah 22:13; and 1 Corinthians 15:32)
But maybe these realities should drive us to a different conclusion altogether. CS Lewis sums it up this way:
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The seed of something else has been planted in us. We have desires that correspond to realities that are only hinted at in this life. They are clues that we are made for something other than this. The Apostle Paul talks about it this way:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:18-24)
Perhaps, this is what Jesus was also getting at when he said:
“[U]unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25)
We have a choice: love this life, flaws, imperfections, injustices, meaninglessness and all (eat, drink, be merry and die) or live for the promise of eternal life.
This can be a hard choice for those of us who have it relatively good in this life. Why would we want to give up our advantage? But, it’s a hollow trade to give up something that will never ultimately satisfy and we can’t keep for something that will be eternally satisfying.
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
― C.S. Lewis,