Saturday, 1 November 2008

Contemplation of death

The Scriptures remind us regularly of the shortness and fragility of life...

Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 "I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath [b] ; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return."

Isaiah 40:6-8: 'A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?"

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."'

James 4:14 "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."

It would seem that wisdom is about knowing that death is around the corner and that my life is quickly over. In that case, it would make a lot of sense for me to contemplate my death and all that it means for my life now. We live so much of our lives ignoring death as if we think we'll continue like this forever. Biblically speaking, that's unhealthy. It is too small a view of things. It's too narrow. It's a morbid fascination with life now. It certainly can't help us in our battle against sin and for holiness. And it can't help us develop the right eternal priorities.

John Newton quotes the words of a dying Christian woman to him in this way: " 'Sir, you are highly favoured in being called to preach the gospel. I have often heard you with pleasure; but give me leave to tell you, that I now see all you have said, or can say, is comparatively but little. Nor, till you come into my situation, and have death and eternity full in your view, will it be possible for you to conceive tha vast weight and importance of the truths you declare. O, Sir, it is a serious thing to die; no words can express what is needful to support the soul in the solemnity of a dying hour.'"

Newton himself concludes a few paragraphs on, " I thought likewise how many things are there that now give us pleasure or pain, and assume a mighty importance in our view, which, in a dying hour, will be no more to us than the clouds which fly unnoticed over our heads. Then the truth of our Lord's aphorism will be seen, felt and acknowledged, "One thing is needful."'

Indeed. Contemplating my own death and mortality has got to have an invigorating effect on my Christian life. It helps me see the difference between passing clouds and what is truly important. Let's not be morbidly preoccupied with life.