Editor’s Journal: Death becomes us
“Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” Resolution #9 of Jonathan Edwards.
I travelled Highway 425 in Louisiana hundreds of times as I returned home from college at Louisiana State University. This stretch of road is a trip back in time as you can easily see little towns that have largely been overshadowed by the magnetism of commerce and industry that urban areas now provide. I was in route to my hometown with my children to see the graves of my parents, brother and best friend—all of whom had departed this life prior to my 21st birthday.
I still like to visit the cemetery to remember them though I know (theologically) that their bodies are simply waiting the coming resurrection on the last day. It is always a strange place to visit —especially as my children will never know their grandparents or uncle in ways other than as characters in a story. Nevertheless, the plan was to stop there on New Year’s Eve, share some stories about them, pray, make our way on to Shreveport, spend the night there, and finally travel on to Oklahoma City the next day. Something happened, however, which changed our plans in an instant.
The sound still echoes in my memory. Before I realized what was happening, the sound of crushing metal, plastic and the loud pop of an airbag release startled me as our mini-van careened out of control over the median of the four-lane highway and into the ditch. As the van rolled to a stop, I looked back and noticed that my children were not hurt (except for a small scratch on my son’s chin). My hands and legs were injured, but I was still able to break free of what was now a heap of barely salvageable auto parts, release my children from their car seats and wait for emergency help to arrive.
When the state trooper arrived, he could not believe that I had survived let alone was able to walk and speak. The people who stopped to help us were amazed that no on-coming traffic struck us or the van did not tip over. In the subsequent moments of the accident, my immediate thoughts were turned to prayer. I thanked God for his mercy toward us. I, too, could scarcely believe my eyes when I looked at our van. God had spared our lives.
Such stories certainly may sound commonplace when viewed as a statistic: Man wrecks vehicle—family spared serious injury. The headline might easily be passed over, especially when I discovered upon my return to Oklahoma City that a 17 year-old young man who was a faithful member of a church in the city was killed in an auto crash almost at the very same time of our wreck hundreds of miles away in Louisiana. Why him and not me?
Many today describe death as a natural part of life. Christians do not do so. Holy Scripture refers to death as an enemy (I Cor. 15:26)—the last enemy to be destroyed by Jesus. Yet, Moses stated that, ultimately, every death’s source is God himself: “YOU return man to dust and say, ‘Return O children of man!’” (Psalm 90:3, emphasis mine). While I was spared at this time, there is coming a day (should the Lord tarry His return to Earth) when I will not be spared. Death’s dark waters shall overtake me and I will (sooner than I think) be carried away in the dust of death.
Recently, I was sharing with someone what has become one of my favorite verses in all the Bible: Ecclesiastes 7:2—“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Not exactly the stuff of Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now, but sobering words nonetheless. And so, for me, the year 2010 began with a vivid reminder of what I know to be true, but so often do not really believe—my days are numbered. My death could be quick and violent or slow and very painful. It really is only a matter of time.
Surely someone reading these words at this very moment will not walk about on this Earth by the end of 2010. Our only hope is found in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For on that day when our lives are examined with the strict scrutiny of God’s judgment, everything will become known as all our sins will be displayed before the holy throne of God. In that hour, the cross of Jesus Christ will be all that matters to us. Living in the light of eternity’s certainty has certainly changed my new year’s resolutions to sound more like Edwards and less like Osteen.
From a dying man to dying men—Happy New Year!
Douglas E. Baker is executive editor of the Baptist Messenger and Communications Team leader for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.