I try not to think about death too much. But it’s all around us. Natural disasters, diseases, violence, war, accidents, time– they take so many every day. Ultimately, it’s unavoidable. One out of every one person dies. We’re not invincible. We’re human, mortal, limited. It’s scary because we don’t know anything besides our life on earth. It’s our entire existence. But yet, we hope for something more. In Christ, we can trust that there is an existence beyond this one– and that it is far better.
Recently, I attended the funeral of an amazing man, a deacon at my home church who battled cancer for several years. His two kids are two of my closest friends. We grew up together– swimming in their pool, creating our own band, making movies, and embarking on many adventures. Don would always offer a “Hi, Laura,” and a smile when I burst into their house without knocking. We didn’t talk much, but I always appreciated his kind words and his genuine interest in what was going on in my life. I remember him helping me check out my car when it started leaking antifreeze in their driveway, how over the years he adopted all the stray cats that people abandoned at the church, and how he willingly played a goofy security guard in the lost footage of one our movies. I remember how he never discouraged us from letting our wild imaginations lead us to ridiculous quests and projects, and I’m pretty sure I remember him just smiling to himself at our goofiness. I remember how proud he was of his children, and how I knew what a great dad and husband he was just because of his amazing family. I remember how he weathered the storm of cancer with quiet fortitude, always trusting God and being an example of faith in the midst of struggle to all who knew him.
While I was home in Kentucky celebrating Don’s life, I heard story after story about his faith; his impact; his servant leadership; his love for his Jesus, his church, and his family. He is deeply missed and widely loved. And greatly rejoiced over.
I thank God for Don, for who he was and the influence he had in so many lives, including mine. And I praise God that Don is still alive.
Over these last few weeks, eternal life has been the most real to me it’s ever been. I know where Don is, and more importantly, who he’s with. I don’t know exactly what it’s like there, but I do know that Don’s more alive now than ever before. I do know he doesn’t have to worry about cancer or pain or weakness. I do know he’s experiencing incomprehensible joy in the presence of his Lord.
Death is scary and terrible and wrong. It’s a consequence we all have to face as a result of the Fall and our sin. We live in a broken world that’s always out to break us, too, and death is the final shattering. But for those of us who are in Christ, death ushers in new life. Eternal life. Forever days with the Life-Giver. It’s not a mirage on the horizon or a myth from ancient imaginations or a crutch for the weak. It’s a certain hope. It’s real.
Even those who do not follow Jesus will face a reality when this life is done. But it is not one of joy or comfort or peace. It is the opposite. And it is only by God’s grace any of us get to experience a different reality.
While Don’s absence here on earth feels surreal, his eternal life feels oddly real to me now. His death is extremely hard, but we’re not strapped to it. There is a strange freedom there, because Don is not strapped to death either. With Christ, he is experiencing a freedom like he’s never known before. His life of faith isn’t over– it’s just beginning.
And the same is true for anyone who turns from their sin and puts their faith in Jesus. To live is Christ and to die is gain. We are here now for a reason, but reality awaits. Glory awaits. Love awaits. Eternity awaits. Truth awaits. Jesus awaits. And none of these will be anything like we expect or imagine them to be. They will be better. Jesus is always better than we imagine. And life with Him will be more real than anything we experience here on earth.
If your future reality is not the same as Don’s, I plead with you– examine the faith he held onto. Life after death is real– and either we will pay for our sin or Jesus will. The choice is ours. We can rely on ourselves or rely on Jesus. That’s why it’s called faith.
As C.S. Lewis put it in The Great Divorce,
“Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?”