We get it regularly and it always jars me. Some well-known person dies, perhaps untimely as Tim Russert, newsman and host of the long-running program Meet The Press or Tony Snow, once a U.S. executive branch press secretary. The press recapitulates the person’s career and personal life, his or her controversies and successes. There will be the tacit regret of a life so rudely cut short, or consternation at a senseless end, or even a celebration of a life fully lived. There may be an uplifting and inspirational message as from the New York Times:
Mr. Snow’s tenure was interrupted by a recurrence of his cancer, and he was quite public about his battle with the disease, saying he wanted to offer hope to other cancer patients. His message to them, he once said, was: “Don’t think about dying. Think about living.”
And after all the obituaries, it’s done with, nothing more to be written. Case closed. That’s all folks.
What jars is that Christian thinking is completely different. We can change back and forth – Christian, world, Christian, world – like shifting gears, able to handle either of them even though they are inconsistent. And they are certainly inconsistent. The everyday view of death and the Christian view of death are inimical:
- Snow’s idea of thinking about living rather than dying didn’t save him and won’t save you. Fighting the cancer or lowering your cholesterol won’t save you. Ray Kurzweil and a bottle of vitamins won’t be able to save you. There are no cancer survivors. The world knows this and ignores it, but Christians have no excuse.
- A person’s position does not matter. It isn’t important that Ronald Reagan was a U.S. president or that Rose Morrison was the deaf wife of a man who painted refrigerators for a living. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Pol Pot who killed a quarter of the population of Cambodia or mother Theresa who lived in poverty serving the outcast sick. Both Lazarus who was saved and the Rich Man who was lost would tell you: The only important thing is faith in Jesus. This is something the newspapers can’t report on, because only God knows the heart.
- Death is not the end, and it is not a time for “resting in peace”. For Tony Snow and Tim Russert, this was the most excitement they had ever encountered. It was the final report card, where they learned if what they had done, what they had believed was true or false. Had their faith saved them? Either the old sinful nature was killed that day and they are now glorious beyond our conception and present with Christ, or they fell into inconceivable and perpetual torment. The excitement goes beyond anything they had ever felt – no wedding, no birth, no election means anything to them next to the events of that day. And so it shall be for us.
We are deceived. The world teaches us to value position, money, fame, accomplishment. It teaches that what we accomplish in life is what defines who we are. But all this is passing. Jesus, who is God made man, laid down his life for the forgiveness of our sins that we might be reconciled to God. Faith and trust in him is the only way that our sins will be forgiven, and that means Heaven or Hell for us. Faith and trust in Jesus is the only thing that will define in the long run who and what we are.