On Death’s Waiting List
Among us there is commonly a mistaken way of looking at death…. If it is understood as the end of everything, death frightens us, it terrifies us, it becomes a threat that shatters every dream, every promise, it severs every relationship and interrupts every journey. This happens when we consider our lives as a span of time between two poles: birth and death; when we fail to believe in a horizon that extends beyond that of the present life; when we live as though God did not exist…. If we give ourselves over to this mistaken vision of death, we have no other choice than to conceal death, to deny it, or to trivialize it so that it does not make us afraid. [Pope Francis].
As seen through material reality, our physical life appears as a one-time blip in a historical timeline. We tend to see our life chronologically ordered, as opposed to multi-dimensional.
Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills? [Job 15:3-7].
Perched on our highly evolved intellect, we have adopted a secular perspective from which to view reality and have discarded the reality of Divine revelation. With room only for physical measurements, we exclude any other form of existence.
Where is the spiritual dimension? Where does our life fit in eternity’s timeline? What were we before birth? Where is the afterlife?
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. [Psalm 139:15-16 (ESV)].
Four Decades or Four Months
How long do we have left? Were a doctor to tell that we have only four months to live, we would be shocked. When Scripture warns us that we only have four scores years to our life, it doesn’t mean much.
Seventy years are given to us!
Some even live to eighty.
But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble;
soon they disappear, and we fly away. [Psalm 90:10-11].
On death’s waiting list, queued for disposal, where are the pleasures, the riches, the games? The view from our wheel chair is void of amusement. The shallow performance of our forgetful mind no longer resembles the original character we once played.
YOU ARE OBSESSED by greed for more and more
until you go down to your graves.
Nay, in time you will come to understand!
And once again: Nay, in time you will come to understand!
… and on that Day you will most surely be called to account for [what you did with] the boon of life! [Quran 102].
Spoon-fed by anonymous nurses, what is trending in old age? No sailing, no skiing, dancing or romance – what styles and fashions are in vogue?
Do we have an exit strategy to bypass physical decline, a scheme to spry up our physique in old age? Will our lofty goals of youth reach to the ends of the universe, but finish only a few feet beneath the earth?
For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. [James 4:14].
Planning Our Last Days
What exciting plans and strategies do you have for the last days of our life? How will we spend the rest of our eternity? Is there a favorite tune we will hum, a movie we will watch, a team to cheer for?
The recklessness and conceit of youthful energy are now the embarrassment of fragile decrepitude. Those who were proud and elite, who once shunned the ordinary and basked in popularity’s limelight, now talk only with doctors, a visiting minister and kindly caregivers. Not even a pet is left by their side.
Every breath you take is a step towards death. [Nahjul Balagha, Saying 74].
With whom will you chat, and what will be the news of the day? Only the reality of God is everlasting.
You turn people back to dust, saying,
“Return to dust, you mortals!”
For you, a thousand years are as a passing day,
as brief as a few night hours. [Psalm 90:3-4].
Old Age Comforts
Old age and death leave nothing to waste. Shrouded in sorrow and grief, the process is total, complete — except for the faithful, whose goal was Truth, who persevered in faith and endured with patience. For them, the end of life is the beginning of existence.
George Macdonald said, ‘If you knew what God knows about death you would clap your listless hands’, but instead I find old people in North America just buying this whole youth obsession. I think growing older is a wonderful privilege. I want to learn to glorify God in every stage of my life. [Elisabeth Elliot, in Laughing Matters: Learning to Laugh When Life Stinks by Phil Callaway p. 203].
The light of God shines in the soul of the believer, dispelling darkness and fear. Old age is but an awakening process. As the body becomes useless, the soul is freed.
Take not a decay of nature, and of those gifts and works which depend thereon, for a decay of grace. Though your memory, and utterance, and fervour of affection, abate … remember, that you may for all this grow in grace. If you do but grow in holy wisdom and judgment, and a higher esteem of God and holiness, and a greater disesteem of all the vanities of the world, and a firmer resolution to cleave to God and trust on Christ, and never to turn to the world and sin; this is your growth in grace… Be patient under all the infirmities and in conveniences of old age. [Rev. Richard Baxter, The Practical Works, Vol. IV, Ch. XXIX, p. 521].
Old age is next to death, but death is the door to the Divine Presence. What youth could not appreciate, old age wisdom perceives and welcomes.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. [Jeremiah 29:11].
Our finite mind cannot comprehend infinity. We are unable to encompass the state of eternity. We require chronology, a beginning and an end, birth and death. We can only conceive of life in human terms, divisible by time, enclosed in a space. Divinity is beyond that.
When a noble life has prepared old age, it is not decline that it reveals, but the first days of immortality. [Muriel Spark].
God is eternal, not subject to time. He does not grow old or decay. He is the only constant, the absolute.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust. [Psalms 103:13-14].
Where can our thoughts rest, except in Divine Reality? With God is the only relief from suffering and fear.
Let the thoughts of death roam freely in our mind. With no place to lodge, they are a momentary distraction, filtered by a pure heart, voided by faith, and disposed of by remembrance of God.
And no human being can imagine what blissful delights, as yet hidden, await them [in the life to come] as a reward for all that they did. [Quran 32:17].