Yesterday one of the gentlemen in our local congregation gave a split sermon in which he spoke about the desire that people have to win a lottery as a way of escaping from their pressing cash problems, and how both hard data and anecdotal evidence suggest that many people are no better off, and are often worse off, for having won the lottery. My own thoughts on lotteries are not very kind , and I remember being amused and slightly irritated as a child when I would see how avidly my father participated in lotteries. Perhaps he considered his own money woes to be hopeless apart from a sudden windfall, which never came, and so he died burdened in debts and leaving little estate to his similarly burdened children. At any rate, a big part of the speaker’s intent was to make it clear, mostly through argument from analogy, that our purpose is not so much to enjoy riches and pleasure now, as to develop the moral character necessary to be able to live happily and uprightly for all eternity. People live differently with eternity in mind than they do if they are only thinking about today.
When I think about the different perspective people have about their lives in view of death and the possibility of resurrection, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 15:32, which reads: “If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”” And Paul’s view makes perfect sense. It is the thought of a better future that makes a difficult present possible to endure. For some, like Karl Marx, religion is the opiate of the masses, and though this tends to put the wrong cause and effect, there is a point to what he says in that it is only religion that makes present injustice and difficulty bearable, for if there is no eternal life to look forward to than the present evil world is entirely unjust and there can be no justification in failing to do whatever is in one’s power to overturn it and to seek justice on evildoers. Restraint in any area of life depends on there being something worth waiting for. When we lose hope in a better future worth waiting for we feel compelled to take what we can get here and now, and we live for the moment without hope for tomorrow.
For several hours today I spent time with a friend of mine who has recently been diagnosed with terminal metastatic pancreatic cancer. With some mutual friends of ours I spent a few hours chatting with him and his family, hearing his stories, watching him look somewhat fragile and ill, with some coughing fits, but seeing him at peace with his life so far, looking forward to seeing his wife again, and to sleep. I saw a man looking at the decisions he had made in life, and deciding that rather to fight for a few more months of suffering, that he would seek to make the time he had left as enjoyable as possible, to go to the Feast of Tabernacles, to see old friends and enjoy the months remaining to him, and to celebrate the good days that are left. There was food to go along with the conversation, and I wondered for myself whether I would be that serene about my impending doom. Quite possibly–at least I hope so. At any rate, I found it inspirational and a surprisingly uplifting experience. There is something worthwhile about hearing the stories of someone preparing to meet their maker and rest in the grave until we dead awaken at the return of Jesus Christ.
At some point, all of our earthly labors will be done. After that death is an adventure that none of us are familiar with. All we have are what has been recorded from others. Whether we live with a hope for eternal life, whenever we expect it, whether we expect to sleep in the grave or simply have our bodies decompose and make worm food, whether we expect to be judged by God above or only expect to be judged by the verdict of history if we are remembered at all, all of us know that this mortal tent is a temporary one. Some of us, particularly those who have suffered a great deal, often imagine the sleep of death to be free of the nightmares and pain that have plagued us in life. Others comfort themselves by thinking that their enemies will spend an eternity of torment. Whatever our beliefs about the afterlife, though, we all expect in light of the common mortality of mankind that our labors will end some day, and at that point, if not before, there will be some sort of reckoning. How to come to terms with the reality of death and with the temporary nature of life, and how best to live those days allotted to us, is something we all have to struggle with in our own way. Let us live so that we have as little to regret as possible when we meet our maker.
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