“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 39:6 ESV)
This is a follow up blog piece to Here Today Gone Tomorrow. The story of King Hezekiah, and especially Isaiah Chapter 39, is, illustrative of our tendency to hold on to things in this world in this life contrary to what God intends for us. Jesus was clear in his urging for us to lay up our treasures in heaven, and not to focus on accumulating treasures on earth.
Hezekiah was a pretty good king as kings of Judah go. Many of those kings turned away from God to idol worship and other behaviors influenced by the pagan culture of the nations around them. These were the people who were never completely driven out of the Promised Land as God instructed. The people of God and even their kings became corrupted by those influences and succumbed to them.
The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob split into two camps early on after the people rejected the rule of judges and wanted kings like the nations around them. They split into the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah. By the time King Hezekiah came around, the nation of Israel had been overrun, captured and exiled to Babylon. During Hezekiah’s reign the people were hanging on by a thread, with the threat of Babylonian exile dangling like the sword of Damocles over the remnant, Judah, that remained.
Hezekiah turned to God when circumstances were dire, and when his death was imminent. Like most of us, though, the King was ultimately very short-sighted. He focused on the immediate and on what he could protect in this short life. He didn’t appreciate the bigger picture.
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?
A very close friend of mine was expressing concern about the state of the world recently. Specifically, Donald Trump seems to be provoking the Korean dictator, like a bully provokes a mass murderer. I was not prepared for such an existential discussion, and I did not respond very well.
The concerns are real. I was haunted by the specter of nuclear war as a child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. I even bought a poster of a mushroom cloud to hang on my wall, not because I wanted the world to end in a ball of fire, but because it was the reality I couldn’t ignore.
But we do learn to ignore realities likes that. Maybe because it’s hard to live with them, we learn to push them back into the recesses of our consciousness. We displace the angst with busyness, entertainment and other distractions.
The fact is that life is short and tenuous. Whether we live to be a hundred or 80 or only 8, life will end. This is also a harsh but true reality, but I’m afraid it isn’t very helpful for someone who is laboring under the burden of the weight of the world. I wish I had said something more.
I firmly believe this world is not all there is. We thirst, and water exists to quench our thirst. We hunger, and food exists to sate our hunger. It makes sense that, if we yearn for something transcendent, something transcendental exists to satisfy our existential longing.
We all seem to “know” this, but the world is so full of a thousand flim flam answers to the ultimate existential question that we hardly have any idea where to start looking. We might be tempted to seize on the first or closest one, like responding to that Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes mailer declaring you might be the winner, or we abandon any hope of an existential answer and resign ourselves to the material world.
Is there proof of something transcendent? How can we know? These are serious and heartfelt questions.
“Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who made us, and not we ourselves.” Psalm 100:3
Such a simple, seemingly self-evident statement, but some people do not believe God exists, and the rest of us (me included) act sometimes as if God does not exist.
When we myopically go about our days focused on ourselves and our surroundings, good or bad, we tend to forget that we did not make ourselves. We act as if we are the be all, end all of our own lives. We act as if the moment and momentary pleasures and pursuits of our lives are more important than an eternal relationship with our Creator.
We are told that we have rights, and we have a right to demand things for ourselves. We live in a self-centered, me-focused world that is continually sending us the message that no one matters more than me.
For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)
Shakespeare was right. We strut and fret our hour upon the stage. But who are we performing for? Our friends and family? Neighbors? The public? Do we perform for ourselves alone?
We have but an hour. Rather, it is more like a minute, a second… a millisecond in the scope of time, on this stage of space/time in the very small act we call human history. According to Shakespeare, our lives are “an idiot’s tale, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
That may be so if there is no God and no life beyond this brief, strutting hour. It would all be meaningless, an idiot’s tale indeed, if this universe is not the work of a Creator and we are not His image bearers.
A rather candid article, 2016 Is Not Killing People, got me thinking today. The article picked up on the various social media comments ruing the celebrities we have lost in 2016, looking forward to 2017, as if 2017 will be any better. Being equally as candid as the article – It won’t be.
The article focuses on the notorious drug use of some iconic celebrities that we lost in 2016. Prince. George Michael. Princess Leia (I mean Carrie Fisher). They all had issues with drug addiction that likely played a key role in their relatively early deaths.
I say relatively early death because just one hundred years ago, and for hundreds of centuries before that, people didn’t live as long, on average, as we do today. Death has always, faithfully done its job. Our experience with death may not be what it was in years gone by, but the inevitably of death has never been more (or less) present.
We not only live longer, but we have more distractions from the stark realities of life than ever before. Drugs, ironically, are among those ubiquitous distractions that characterize our modern lives, the same drugs that led to the early demise of many notable celebrities in 2016.
Not all distractions shorten our lives, of course. Some of them, like fitness, running and similar crazes are likely to prolong our lives. We might squeeze another 10, 20 or more years out of our lives. Maybe, if we have the right distractions, we might live to be 100. Maybe even slightly older.
God is from everlasting to everlasting. He sets eternity in the hearts of men (Ecc. 3.11), but our glimpse of eternity and our sense of God is often obscured by the every day realities of our lives.
That God set eternity into the hearts of men should tell us something. It should urge us to look beyond ourselves, to look to God for His purpose in our lives. Yet we are often given to walking with our heads down, driven with blinders on chasing after self-fulfillment or prone to obsessive self-reflection with eyes turned inward. We have a hard time seeing past our own noses, much less focusing on an eternal God We have a hard time, wherever our gazes are set, letting go of self-direction.
The Bible calls that sin.
Take the morality out of sin, and sin is simply missing the mark. The mark is God, His character and His purpose. When our focus is on other things, when we are pursuing other things to the exclusion of God, we are missing the mark. We are missing the purpose of God in our lives.