The certainty and unpredictability of death
I live in the Midwest, in an area that sees its share of heavy snow, and an occasional minor earthquake, but little else in the way of natural cataclysms. It’s a pretty safe place to live, actually. Life here may not be as exciting as New York City or have the breathtaking vistas of Malibu or Aspen, but what it lacks in sensory and emotional stimulation it makes up for in relative security and predictability.
We were spared the recent monster blizzard that dumped on the Northeast, causing a number of deaths and severely hampering normal life for many. Though it certainly was a whopper, at least the folks up in New England knew it was coming because of our excellent weather forecasting technology and were able to prepare for it somewhat. The storm, and its aftermath, were predictable.
Most of what happens to us in life is not unusual and at least somewhat expected, and we can take steps to be ready for it. And then there’s North Korea. The repressive, Communist nation on the other side of the world set off a nuclear bomb last week. Just testing…but apparently the purpose of the test is to determine how close they are to being prepared to cause havoc and destruction in the United States, should they find that in their best interests.
Now North Korea has been provoking the international community with its nuclear ambitions for many years, so there’s no need to lose any sleep over this. Yet, this latest test gave evidence that they are closer than ever to their goal of putting a nuclear device on a long-range missile aimed for the US. The nuclear capability North Korea and other nations possess now, or will in the future, introduces an element of unpredictability that each of us must deal with.
Or perhaps it simply shines a spotlight on a reality we prefer to ignore. Because even if we built an impenetrable underground bunker complete with a radioactive particle filtration system and stocked it with food and water to last us months, we could have a heart attack while waiting out the apocalypse, and breathe our last within the “safety” of our impregnable fortress. Even if we eat only optimally nutritious meals, take a multivitamin, exercise regularly, and avoid all high-fructose corn syrup, we could be taken down and taken out by a pernicious microorganism. Even if we consistently practice safe driving habits, our well-planned life can be cut short by a dangerous and drunk wrong-way driver. Because ultimately, no matter the lengths we go to in an effort to delay it, death is certain, and unpredictable.
How easily most of us live with the unpredictability of the day of our death. We know it’s coming, but we prefer not to think about it. What do you suppose would happen if we ignored the only other certainty of life: taxes? There’d be hell to pay, for sure. Unfortunately, the same fate may await us if we disregard the reality of our mortality.
The Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” There are no do-overs. The end might arrive in your sleep tonight…on my drive tomorrow. It might not come for 50 years. But it will come.
It is certainly wise to take care how we live for the purpose of maximizing our years on this earth, but we have only limited control over that. North Korea may never attack the United States, but even a safe, happy life will one day succumb to the laws of nature. What is even wiser is to consider how we are living in light of the laws of nature’s God. And when they expose our culpability, as they will, to recognize that the unpredictability of life leaves us no better option than to throw ourselves on the mercy of the Court today. Because if we wait until we stand before the Judge, it will be too late.
Death is certain. The hour and day are unpredictable. Unless you have reason to be confident that you are nothing more than a conglomeration of atoms, you would be wise to make sure you’re ready for it.