In spite of the proverbial certainty of death and taxes, the human psyche has always dreamed of discovering loopholes in whatever mechanisms fix the limits. Yet though it might be possible to cheat on one’s taxes, “cheating death” remains a phrase of wishful-thinking applied to incidences of short-lived victories against our own mortality. Eventually, death honors its ignominious appointment with all of us, calling the bluff of the temptation to believe that we are the masters of our own destiny. But despite the universal, empirical verification of its indiscriminate efficiency, we continue to be constantly surprised whenever death strikes. Only a painfully troubled life can be so thoroughly desensitized against its ugliness as to not experience the throbbing agony of the void it creates within us whenever the earthly journey of a loved one comes to an end.
Such a peculiar reaction to an otherwise commonplace occurrence points strongly to the fact that this world is not our home. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 explains, God has put eternity in our hearts, and therefore the mysterious notion that we are not meant to die is no mere pipe dream: it sounds a clarion call to the eternal destiny of our souls. If the biblical record is accurate, there is no shame or arrogance in pitching our hopes for the future as high as our imaginations will allow. Actually, the danger is that our expectations may be too low, for “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Far from being the accidental byproducts of a mindless collocation of atoms, we are indestructible beings whose spiritual radars, amidst much static noise, are attuned to our hearts’ true home.
Trouble begins, however, when we try to squeeze that eternal existence into our earthly lives in a manner that altogether denies our finite natures. We do so whenever we desensitize ourselves against the finality of death through repeated exposure to stage-managed destruction of human life through the media. Or we zealously seek ultimate fulfillment in such traitorous idols as pleasure, material wealth, professional success, power, and other means, without taking into account the fleeting nature of human existence. Or we broach the subject of death only when we have to, and even then we feel the need to couch it in palatable euphemisms. With some of our leading intellectuals assuring us that we have pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps and we therefore have no need for God, the only thing missing from our lives seems to be the tune of “Forever Young” playing in the cosmic background. A visitor from outer space would probably conclude that only the very unlucky ones die, while the rest of us are guaranteed endless thrill-rides through space aboard this green planet.
But such a visitor would promptly be treated to the rude awakening that even the most self-assured of human beings are still in transit. While it is possible to sustain a façade of total control within the confines of material comforts, a functional government, and a reasonable distance from the darker side of human suffering, this opportunity is not equally shared around the globe. It would take a very specialized form of education to believe in the ability of human beings to control their own destiny when hundreds of people are being put to the sword, homes are being razed to the ground, and your neighbors are fleeing for their lives—a scenario my family lived through in Kenya. Unlike their counterparts elsewhere, news anchors in this part of the world rarely preface their gruesome video clips with viewer discretion warnings, and so the good, the bad, and the ugly are all deemed equally fit for public consumption.
Affronted by such an in-your-face, unapologetic reality of human mortality, one finds oneself face to face with a dilemma: why should you devote all of your energy to making a meaningful difference in the world if it is true that everything done under the sun will eventually amount to zero? Once one has come to the conclusion that the emperor has no clothing, what sense does it make to keep up with the pretense? Sadly, some see through the emptiness and choose to end their own lives. From a naturalistic perspective, that seems to be a perfectly consistent step to take.
Yet the Bible grasps this nettle with astounding authority. Not only has God placed a yearning for our true home in our hearts, God has also promised to cloth the perishable with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality through Christ’s own death (1 Corinthians 15:54). In the meantime, the light of the gospel shines an eternal perspective upon our service unto God and humanity, fusing all of our activities with significance. When the call of God has been answered, nothing that is done in obedience to the Father, as the Son himself confirmed in life and death, is ever trivial. Thus even in the face of suffering and death, as a follower of Christ, I neither bury my head in the sand nor grope blindly in total darkness. With faithfulness and joy, I enthusiastically render service to my God,
And when my task on earth is done,
When by thy grace the victory’s won,
Even death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God through Jordan leadeth me.(1)
J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) From the 1862 hymn, He Leadeth Me, by Joseph Gilmore.