Apr 16, 2011

The Inevitability of Death

Those who are wise must finally die,
     just like the foolish and senseless,
     leaving all their wealth behind.

Psalm 49 isn’t exactly what you’d call cheery. Its main point is that the rich will die just like everybody else. The psalm ends on this note: “People who boast of their wealth don’t understand; they will die, just like animals.” Not exactly an upbeat thought, is it?

Yet Psalm 49 offers us the possibility of looking at our lives differently, of living with deeper purpose and wider vision. Even if we’re not striving for riches, most of us spend generous amounts of time and effort seeking that which, in the end, will be left behind. We worry about so many things that don’t matter when we look at life from the perspective of death’s inevitability. Psalm 49 gives us the chance to see life from the point of view of death, and therefore choose to live with significance.

As a pastor, I’ve spent more time in memorial services than just about anybody I know. You might think this is a downside of ordained ministry. But, in fact, I consider it a blessing. I’ve officiated in memorial services where eulogies have been relatively empty because the deceased lived their lives devoted to emptiness. And I’ve overseen memorial services that are joyous celebrations of lives well led. What makes the difference? Not wealth. Not position or power. Not even success, as the world defines it. Lives that matter even after death were focused on loving God and loving others. It’s really that simple. So when I’m reminded, either by my involvement in memorial services or by Psalm 49, that I will die, I’m encouraged to live this day with eternal significance. Today I want to be a person of love.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you reflect on your own death, what thoughts or feelings come to mind? What are the things in your life for which you strive and which really don’t matter all that much? Given the inevitability of your death, how will you live differently today?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for Psalm 49. When I first read it, I must confess I felt rather distressed. I wondered why I had to think about death today. But the more I have reflected upon this psalm, the more I have come to appreciate its sober reminder.

Yes, Lord, the day will come when I will die. On that day I will leave behind my possessions and obsessions. When I stand before you and have my life examined, will you and I rejoice over what you have done through me? Will I have loved you with all that I am? Will I have loved my neighbor as myself? Will I have invested my life in the things that last forever?

Thank you, dear Lord, for the reminder to live fully for you this day. May I live today, and each day ahead, with the wisdom that comes from knowing my days on this earth are numbered. Amen.

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