Wednesday, April 13, 2016

4-Living in the Light of the Eternal:Death and Beyond

              This life is not all there is.

            I want to be quite clear. God values this life. The process of evolution is long. It took a great deal of time to reach this moment of history. In terms of our individual lives, this biological entity has never existed before and will never exist again. Even if they could exist again, that biological entity would have a different set of experiences that would set it apart. This world is our home. We have a treasure, a unique gift, to share with others. If we follow God's plan, we will love this world in the way that God loves it; we will invest our lives in it the way God has invested in it.

            Yet, we must not grasp or cling to this home as if it alone is our home. Our temporality suggests the eternal, out of which we carve a brief period in which we live. We need to live our lives in light of eternity. In that way, we learn to value this life properly. We embrace people and life; we live passionately, lovingly, and justly. Yet, we do not cling to relationships, things, or countries, as if our happiness depends upon them ultimately. In Christian Perfection, Fenelon (1651-1715) has a sharp way of putting this truth.

"Is this then the world to which we are so devoted?  We only pass through it.  We are on our way out." 

            Living from the perspective of eternity changes our values. We learn to use time and material resources wisely. We place a higher premium on relationships and character instead of fame, wealth, success, power, or pleasure. We have a discerning read of the present, refusing to have the pull of what is popular today dictate our lives.

            Reflecting upon suffering and death helps us to consider the limits of a human life. Our hopes and dreams have limits. Sometimes, things beyond our control, such as disease or accidents, bring an end to our plans and goals. We have no option here. Suffering and death constitute a human life. Some people, sadly, seem to have suffering as their lot in life.

            We view our lives as a good. Consequently, we often fear death, even though we do not know what lies beyond. Fear of death may even come from a fear of having wasted the brief time we have here. We want to live longer and healthier, for we think that, given more time, we might use that time better than we did in the time we have had. We regret lost opportunities. We have guilt over what we have failed to accomplish with the time we have had. In fact, one wonders how deeply the fear of death may influence our thought and behavior throughout life, especially if we suppress thinking about death because it is too depressing.

            Yet, reflection upon the end of our lives can cause us to reflect upon eternity, and therefore to reflect upon God. In that sense, any fear of death we have is a holy fear, for it helps us to imagine this world without our presence. What influence will we have had upon those whom we meet who will continue after our bodily life is finished?

            Some people view death as simply part of the biological flow of life. They say it is no big deal.

            I have seen people die well. Death was like a completion of a life well lived.

            We honor the courageous because they willingly face the possibility of death. The police officer, fire fighter, and soldier, know they face the possibility of death in a conscious and intentional way that people in their everyday lives do not. Sacrifice is what the courageous willingly do. They face a fear most of us keep in the background of our lives.

            Suffering and death reminds us of the broken and fragmented character of a human life. Yet, it also motivates much of our behavior. The vision of the suffering and death of others motivates many persons to relieve suffering and discover the causes of what we consider pre-mature death. When others are in danger, the instinct is there to help, if we possibly can. Suffering and death call out of us qualities like that of compassion and generosity toward others.

            Socrates once said that philosophy is the art of learning how to die. Life itself is preparation for the moment of death. Anthony Bloom, in Beginning to Pray (1970), quoted his father this way.

Always remember that whether you are alive or dead matters nothing. What matters is what you live for and what you are prepared to die for. 

We will die. We could die with regret, guilt, remorse, and/or resentment. We could also die well.  

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