Tag Archives: death

Got Life?

Milk Bottle MotivationA bottle of milk has an expiration date. That doesn’t mean that the milk will magically turn into cottage cheese at midnight the day after the “Use By” date. Maybe it will go bad sooner; maybe later? But eventually it will go bad.

Life, like that bottle of milk, will expire as well. We are all destined to die. But just as you don’t leave your milk sitting out in on a hot counter, you should take pains to keep your life from expiring any sooner than it needs to.

Got life? Yes. Then take care of it.

A Time for Everything, but Especially…–Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
–Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

It’s pretty much impossible for me to read Ecclesiastes 3 without hearing the Byrds singing. If you’re so inclined, you can click “play” and listen as you read on. (Or just listen. After all, it’s your time.)

I’d like to focus not on “a time to cast away stones,” which I know is the part of that passage that holds the greatest meaning for you, but on that first half of verse 2. “A time to give birth, and a time to die.” We tend to emphasize the first part of that pairing without acknowledging the inevitable second part. The moment we are born, we start dying. That’s a simple truth of mortal existence, but who wants to talk about the time for that particular event under heaven?

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas famously urged his father, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” and I would not be one to argue for accepting an early exit from this life. It’s easy for me, at age 52, to say, “I’ll be ready to go when I hit 90,” but I’m pretty sure that I’ll feel differently when I’m blowing out 89 candles on a cake.

There is, however, a difference between being ready and eager to die on the one hand and being open to the fact that death will one day arrive. Knowing that death will immediately put me into the presence of Christ, as 2 Corinthians 5:8 makes clear, does not incline me to take an early trip in that direction.

Knowing that death will come one day should sober us to use each day that we have in a manner worthy of the God who gave us that day. Knowing that the first death will not be followed by the second death but instead by an eternity in a glorified resurrection body allows me to live those days I do have without fear.

What prompted the Byrds to record “Turn! Turn! Turn!” or Pete Seeger to write it? I’m not sure. Pete passed from this mortal coil in 2014, and I won’t speculate on his eternal fate. What I can state with confidence is that we all had a time to be born and will all have a time to die. Living with the hope of Christ makes the latter fact far less ominous.

The Vanitas Painting and the Bodybuilder

Vanitas PaintingHave you ever wondered why so many artists, especially Dutch artists in the 17th and 18th centuries, painted still lifes of skulls, flowers, and over-ripe fruit. Okay, you probably haven’t wondered that, but the next time you go through an art museum and see one of these paintings by somebody like Pieter Claesz or Adriaen van Utrecht, you’ll notice it.

Those paintings are products of the Vanitas school, focused on the ephemeral temporary nature of life. Think of them as the canvas-based enlargement of 1 Peter 1:24-25 and “all flesh is grass.”

In the painting above, we have various common elements of a Vanitas painting. The skull, obviously, represents death and mortality. The watch in the lower left suggests time passing. The lamp, just extinguished, speaks of the transitory nature of life, while the violin evokes music being played and then fading away. Reflections, bubbles, candles, flowers, and fruit all show up frequently in these works.

What brings this painting to mind, oddly enough, is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The undisputed master of bodybuilders, now 67 years old, no longer has the body that allowed him to play Conan the Barbarian so effectively. I won’t link to a photo of the not-so-svelte Arnold, but you can Google it if you like. Many 67-year-olds should look as good as Arnold, but when you’ve seen Mr. Olympia, the current body is hard to see.

The reality here–and it’s a reality that we don’t always want to face–is that every one of us is a living, breathing Vanitas painting. When Arnold had that Pumping Iron body, we all knew, even if we didn’t admit it, that he would eventually decline. The muscles would atrophy, the body fat would increase, and, somewhere down the road, that body would be placed in the grave. Even Jack Lalanne died eventually.

Does the fact that “all flesh is grass” mean that Arnold Schwarzenegger wasted his time creating that highly sculpted body? Given that he parlayed it into a considerable fortune, a movie career, and two terms as California governor, it doesn’t seem like a waste. (I’m not applauding all of his life choices, just to be clear.) All flowers will fade, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grow them. All bodies will deteriorate, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the most of them while we are here.

The Vanitas painting conveys two messages. Most obviously, it reminds us of the inevitability of death, but it also conveys the preciousness of what life we have. Live what life God gave you to the best of your ability. It will end.