I’m sick of everything COVID. But the pandemic is helping us in at least one way: it reminds us that we’re going to die.
I don’t spend much time thinking about death. I suppose we all know we’re going to die, but we don’t generally think about it much. I understand why. Ecclesiastes presents death as a problem for us, negating most of our accomplishments and equalizing all of us. We’re no better than animals. “A living dog is better than a dead lion,” the Preacher observes (Ecclesiastes 9:4).
But knowing that we’re going to die is also advantageous. Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Knowing that we’re going to die seems like a downer, but according to Moses, it’s a gift.
One of our greatest problems is remembering our creatureliness. We crave the properties that belong to God. We want a life without limits.
Death reminds us that we’re dust. It puts us in our place. “You are going to die,” says Mike Wittmer. “One morning the sun will rise and you won’t see it. Birds will greet the dawn and you won’t hear them. Friends and family will gather to celebrate your life, and after you’re buried they’ll return to the church for ham and scalloped potatoes. Soon your job and favorite chair and spot on the team will be filled by someone else. The rest of the world may pause to remember—it will give you a moment of silence if you were rich or well known—but then it will carry on as it did before you arrived.”
We tend to live in the moment and to pretend that we can escape our own mortality. Death screams at us: we’re not all that we think we are. Death will one day rob us of everything. Knowing this relativizes all of our accomplishments and humbles us in the exact places we need to be humbled. It’s meant to lead us to humility and a godly fear of the One who is Creator, not creature. It guards us from being deceived about who we really are.
Knowing that we’re going to die also redirects our hope. We’re prone to forget our creatureliness; we’re also prone to base our hope on things that won’t last. Death redirects our hope to the resurrection of Jesus and the life to come. It helps us learn how to live for eternity.
A doctor once told John Wesley, “Most people die for fear of dying; but, I never met with such people as yours. They are none of them afraid of death, but are calm, and patient, and resigned to the last.” They had learned how to die well because they had accepted their mortality and placed their hope in the resurrection life we have in Jesus.
Matt McCullough, author of Remember Death, argues that the best way to enjoy your life is to get honest about your death. We can gain wisdom from facing our death that we won’t find anywhere else.
I’m not grateful for a lot of things about the pandemic, but I’m grateful to be reminded that I’m going to die. I pray that God will allow us to use this knowledge so that we learn to live and die well, and gain a heart of wisdom.