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The Luckiest Man Alive

As we were turning into the crematorium car park I noticed sitting on his porch an elderly man who I remarked was probably the luckiest man in town. Fortunate because almost every day of the week he would be reminded of his mortality.”

The Psalmist (90:12) has this same reaction when he asks the Lord to ‘teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ The preacher in Ecclesiastes is even bolder when he comments that ‘It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart’ (7:2). In the West we try to hide from this grim reality. We see this in the words of historian Arnold Toynbee: ‘Death is un-American, an affront to the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Psychiatrist Eric Fromm urged people to keep from even thinking about death.

So much for reality therapy!

The fear of death is common and from an earthly perspective is understandable. But a fear faced, not ignored, can be turned into good. Woody Allen speaks for many when he first jokes ‘It’s not that I’m afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens!’ but then in all seriousness says of death that ‘it is absolutely stupefying in its terror and it renders everyone’s accomplishments meaningless.’

The death of friends, the obits column in the daily newspaper, the cemetery and the funeral cortege are steady and helpful reminders to us all that (as we were reminded from Psalm 103) ‘the days of man are but as grass: he flourishes like a flower of the field; when the wind blows over it, it is gone and its place will know it no more.’ But wonderfully that is not all. There is much more to be said because of what Jesus has done.

Here is the wisdom that we are wise to apply our hearts to. Fearful hearts, guilt-laden hearts, broken and sorrowful hearts are invited by God to listen to Jesus’ words: ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, to look at Him on the cross bearing the punishment for sin that saw death enter into the world and to contemplate His empty tomb where He conquered death. ‘There is a resurrection-shaped hole in earth’s great graveyard’, wrote theologian A.M. Hunter.

Hiding from death is impossible and unhealthy. Allowing it to humble us and draw us to the Saviour is not only possible but what God desires and requires of us all.

A few years ago the well-known and much-loved Christian leader John Stott died and went to be with the Lord. Many years ago he wrote that ‘the proper epitaph to write for a Christian believer is not a dismal or uncertain petition, ‘R.I.P.’ (Requiescat in Pace – may he rest in peace) but a joyful and certain affirmation, ‘C.A.D.’ (Christ abolished death).’ How good is God to us who despite the sadness and uncertainty of death can find such real assurance and comfort?