Living for Eternity, Preparing for Death and Enjoying the Present
Near the end of I Corinthians 15 in which Paul outlines the evidence for believing in the resurrection, he combined quotes from two prophets, Isaiah and Hosea, to write this. "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"
These lines capture the confidence of every sincere Christian. We look forward to a sting-less death. Death and aging are still the painful consequences of mankind's rejection of the Creator. But the Christian faces it with the assurance of resurrection after death and an eternity of joy in the presence of the Savior. The history of Christianity is full of accounts of men and women who faced death confidently because of this assurance.
But this hub is not a defense of the resurrection. I assume that, and write of how this assurance empowers us to live confidently here and now, despite the certainty of death.
Many, perhaps most, identify with Woody Allen's quip, "I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens." We smile but he captured the tension that even faithful Christians often feel. We are confident of being welcomed into heaven, but we fear the manner in which death overtakes us.
I'd like to die like both my parents did. They were at peace in their beds. They joined their Lord and the millions who had gone before them after illnesses that were relatively free of suffering. But there's nothing in Scripture that promises that Christians escape the suffering leading up to death. Some experience long and painful illness. Some endure horrific violence either accidental or at the hands of enemies. Frankly, these are the notions that give me the frights. Perhaps I watch too much NCIS or Bones.
Living to Die
Of course we can't know the exact circumstances of our death. But there is a way to prepare. How do you handle today's pain and disappointment of lesser intensity? Think about the last time you were sick, or suffered an injury, or endured a loss. What would those closest to you say about how you faced these events? Did they see a calm acceptance of what was inevitable while at the same time energetically exploring opportunities for relief? That balance is the work of God's Spirit.
On the other hand if you fell apart in utter despair, thrashing about in bitterness and self-pity, I doubt that you will handle very well the events that bring about your death. You are so consumed with present annoyances that there's nothing left with which to prepare for more serious challenges. Perhaps you need to have a talk with your Lord about gaining His perspective and strength for these minor challenges. Now assuming you are making significant progress at this spiritual level, what specific things would you do to prepare for your death?
Writing it up
There are several documents you ought to draft and keep in a safe place. A will stating your desires for the disposal of you body and property; a living will stating what medical attention you want during your final illness. Heroic measures to prolong your life as long a possible? Or whatever will make you most comfortable while the inevitable approaches. You'll also want to have documents conferring power of attorney to a trusted friend or family member.
There are many on line sources for these documents, among them, MedLawPlus. I'm not recommending or endorsing any, just alerting you to where you might start. But when all is said and done, I'd rather talk to a real live person about such important items. Each state has slightly different laws governing such matters so, whatever you do, make sure you consult a reputable attorney.
Position yourself for flexibility
It's a truism that older people have a harder time adjusting to change. We like our familiar surroundings and tried routines. We know in the back of our heads that sooner or later we'll have to move out of our current homes, perhaps into a retirement home or in with family. We'll need to give up driving and other marks of healthy independence.
My own inclination is to put off thinking about this stuff. In fact one reason I'm writing this hub is to force myself to think it through. I'm no expert, just a crotchety old man trying to figure out what's golden about the golden years. One thing seems pretty clear to me: better to make key decisions when I still can, than leave it to others to make. So now is the time to de-clutter and to simplify life. How much stuff will your survivors have to dispose of after you're gone? It would seem that simple love and respect for them would motivate a de-cluttering binge.
Important people in your life need to be prepared for your death. "What would you do if I dropped dead?" I asked my wife. "I'd sell the house" she answered after a startled pause. "No," said I, "My body is still on the floor where it dropped with a thud. Can't sell the house yet!" A fruitful conversation followed. We've agreed that she'll call the Cremation Society, dispose of the ashes in a place of her choosing and arrange a simple memorial service. Of course our three daughters and many friends would be right there for her.
By the way, I've known people to leave very detailed instructions for their funeral and events surrounding it. They seem to forget that they won't be around to enjoy it. Funerals, memorial services, graveside services are for the living, not the dead. They provide an opportunity for them to process their loss and to comfort each other. So as far as I'm concerned, let there be a celebration of God's mercy in the gospel of Jesus Christ, with plenty of congregational singing (assuming there are enough folks there to sing). I'd like one song to be sung either by a musical group or by the congregation or both - In Christ Alone.
In Christ Alone written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend; Kristyn Getty, soloist; arranged by Dave Cleveland
Details, details, details
I've handled our family finances all our married life. Would my wife know what bills are coming due and how our income would change when I'm gone? By the way, I love Quicken Essentials. As you pay your monthly bills, it projects for the next month or for however far ahead you determine, what bills are coming up. It will be a breeze for anyone to pick up the bill paying after I'm gone.
What about the umpteen accounts and websites for which a password is needed? If they are only in my head, I'm taking them to heaven with me. Don't think I'll need them there.
These are the things I'm working on. I'm sure there are items I've missed. I'd love to hear about what you would add.
How prepared for death are you?
Need not be a downer
The certainty of the resurrection makes the Christian life here on earth a purposeful journey rather than an exercise in survival. If I have to spend a night on the road, it would never occur to me to nail my family pictures on the wall of the hotel. I'm moving on the next day. So it is with this life. We're moving on. We don't sink our roots down too far.
Does that mean we care nothing about world peace and justice, the poor and the forgotten? Actually history shows that most energetic efforts to make this world a better place have been initiated by Christians. The difference is that we have a different motive. We work for justice and mercy because we serve a just and merciful God. By doing so we witness to His character. The final results are in His hands. Ours is to be faithful with what resources we have. No end-of-the-world panic. No need to force our solutions on others. Faithfulness is the name of the game.
Yes, I know of unbelievers who have died nobly and I would not want to take a thing away from that. But the believer lives to die 'cause he knows that when he dies, he'll live as never before. If God cooked up this awesome world we now inhabit, heaven's got to be even better. Oh, and the thing about no marriage in heaven? That's only because He's got something better in mind.