In a peculiar way, those days before a person’s inevitable end to this life have a particular heft, so to speak. A feeling of particular consequence. We look at life from a higher vantage point, and better distinguish what is important and real, from what is silly and illusory.
What happens next? How can we not consider it? The mortality rate is 100%. Are we snuffed out with no more awareness of anything, forever? Or do we live on? And if our awareness continues on, as I am convinced it does, what do we experience? Are we all of us reconciled to God (God being implied by the continued awareness after death) or are only some of us? The latter seems more likely to me, just from experience of life, even before consulting that big book. This feeling of significance that is heightened at the time of a loved-one’s death must mean something about this life, especially given the alternative: that it is all pointless and then we die.
Our life as we experience it now must have some sort of significance to what happens next. It must be the opportunity for relationship with our Maker. Death really is a significant event, but not because of the frightening superficial animal anticipation of permanent death. It is significant for the reason that it is the end of the opportunity for relationship with God while He is yet unseen.
We are called (though we may not listen) to see beyond physical reality now, to what lies behind it all. We have an opportunity to respond to our intuition that what is beyond is greater than what we experience now. We are to use our imagination – not to embrace a fiction, but to have in our minds an image of a reality that presents no image to us now. Our intuition of unseen reality lends a feel of enchantment to this life, and also a feel of gravitas; of consequence. Without that enchantment of the world we’re left with Camus‘ honest question: why not just kill ourselves, if there is no consequence or significance or “heft” or gravitas or purpose or meaning to this life?
Is this intuition of an unseen reality just a product of my wishful thinking? And the news of God transcending from there to here, in the person of the Christ, is that also wishful thinking? The point of the Gospel story is that we’re not left only with intuition, with trying to put in our mind an image of something not seen, yet more real than what is seen. The story is of God breaking through to us, so that we have more to go on than intuition. Of course, we can reject that whole story, but the intuition remains unless we have the specific intent to suppress it. That intuition is a prompt to which we should respond. Even if to do so we have to get past distasteful experience with people who yammer on about a God they don’t understand and who are themselves showy, hypocritical, and mean.
We have to get past the objection we’re tempted to entertain, that it can’t be fair that this story – the Gospel – is necessary to finding God because some people haven’t heard it. Why does the Bible say that even those who haven’t heard it are without excuse? Consider the book of Job. It was the earliest thing written in the entire Bible. Earlier than Genesis. Earlier than the explicit old testament prophecies of a coming physical presence of God with us. Even in Job, it’s explained not only that creation screams the existence of God, but that God is our Redeemer in the flesh, among us in the body, a physical affirmation of what we know to be true in a non-physical reality beyond this physical reality. (E.g. Job 19). Our intuition does not lead us only to a far-off distant God who will be visible to us in the also distant by-and-by. It leads us to the bridge from seen to unseen, that is Jesus, Christ and Redeemer.
In the end, lying alone on our deathbed – because we are alone, that’s what it means to be on our deathbed, even when a loving family surrounds you, they’re not going with you, you go alone—when we’re alone in that way we say we’re alone with God, and we say it that way because all that fuss about a misunderstood or mangled purported Gospel presented by deeply flawed fellow men—all that is stripped away from us and we’re left with the certain knowledge that God is.
This idea of a Jesus “meek and mild” is such a lie. People don’t typically reject the Gospel story because they become convinced by anti-metaphysical arguments. They reject it because it addresses a scary subject, and its adherents are so darn goofy. Better to tune the whole subject out, many feel. People with a Christian cultural background don’t typically turn directly from nominal Christian to atheist. They first turn from Christian to non-Christian and thereby embrace as true the fiction that they’ve landed on a happy neutral place. They’re trying to avoid the subject, and they’re abetted in doing so by the messy and even odious features of God-seeking among deeply flawed yet self-righteous people.
Life (I mean life in the body, the span from birth to animal death) is like a runway. It does end, so we must either take off or crash. It’s short, compared to the flight. The sole purpose of the runway is to get us to lift-off. We don’t race down the run-way unaware of its purpose. It takes some effort to concentrate on a People magazine while the plane hurtles toward the end of the finite runway. God finds us on this short runway, and we either acknowledge Him or we don’t. It’s too late when get to the end of the runway.
If we understand our life as being like this runway, it does take on extra significance. People die all the time, but when it’s someone close to us, we have a little sense, vicariously, of this important transition to the air or to the crash. It’s why, I think, the Bible says “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:4).