This past spring, my family and I walked through the death of someone very dear to us: my step-dad, Francis. It was, of course, a terribly hard experience for all of us. But as hard experiences usually are, it was also a refining experience…a time to do a double take on our lives, ask some hard questions, and reexamine our perspectives on life.
As anyone knows who has walked through grief, it is like getting a new pair of eyeglasses. Everything looks different, at least for awhile. Trivial things seem even more trivial. Many things you once thought were important are suddenly unimportant, and some things that weren’t treated as very important get bumped up a notch. Things begin to appear different to us, because death has a powerful ability to bring things into focus.
One of the things that came into crystal clear focus for me during this time was the shortness of life in comparison to eternity. As the Bible says, our life is like a vapor…here one minute and gone the next…fleeting, momentary, SHORT. It really is a very insignificant length of time in the vast scheme of history and eternity.
This was a truth I focused on often with the students I ministered to when I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. To help them understand this truth, every year I would take the students in my Bible study on a field trip…to a cemetery. Sounds morbid, I know. But it was one of the most life changing times we had together. I took them to the oldest part of the cemetery and gave them one simple mission: to collect several names and dates from people’s gravestones. Then they were to do some simple math: calculate the amount of years each person spent on this earth and the amount of years that have passed since their death. Two small numbers. But those two small numbers always presented big realities.
For example, let’s think about some people we all know. Take George Washington for instance. He was born in 1732 and died in 1799. So he lived for 67 years. He’s been on the other side of this life for 211 years. How about Abraham Lincoln? He lived from 1809 to 1865…alive for 56 years, deceased for 145 years. Thus, these two great presidents, although they had a life of impact, still had an incredibly short life in the great expanse of history. They have spent three to four times longer in the afterlife than in this life. If you go back further in time, the numbers get even more gripping. Take King Tut. His birthdates are believed to be 1341 – 1323 BC. His life lasted a short 18 years. He’s been in the afterlife for over 3,000 years!
The reality is staggering and, quite honestly, gut wrenching. Our time on this earth will be so incredibly short compared to our time spent in the afterlife. The reality of this truth should grip us to the core. Our time on this life will end very soon. Our time in the afterlife will never end.
And yet, how many times do we get so wrapped up in this life that we give little thought to the afterlife? For example, how many of us spend our lives investing financially for a few years of retirement, and do little to invest spiritually in the thousands, even millions of years we will spend in the spiritual realm that comes after this one? How many of us prepare our children for the handful of decades of their adult life without working hard to prepare them for their infinite number of years in the afterlife? And saddest of all, we all expect that when this world ends, we will get to spend all of our years after this in heaven in the presence of God, when many of us gave very little thought or time to Him during our short 70 year or so lifespan on this earth. In fact, some of us can’t even part with a Sunday morning here or there. If we can’t give God the time of day, what makes us think we are entitled to spend an eternity with him?
The Bible makes it clear that there is only one way to spend eternity with God and that is through accepting Jesus’ death on the cross for your sin and seeking to follow him. And we have one short, short, SHORT life in which to do this! How you spend these few years will have radical consequences for your eternal afterlife. God intended us to do one main thing in this life: seek the one who we will spend all eternity with and do His work in telling others how they can spend all eternity with him. And we are supposed to be thinking about the afterlife constantly, not just when someone close to us passes into it.
What are you doing on your short vacation on earth that will prepare you for the real life after this one? Are you living for this short, vapor of a life or are you living for the next one that will outlast this one indefinitely? I know for me, this time has been a wake-up call to live not for this temporary life, but for my eternal one.
I am thankful that my dear step-dad knew Jesus and is experiencing that life on the other side. I am thankful that his eternity will be one filled with all that he loves, including God. And I am thankful that I can know that I will be with him someday. And while my vision has gotten a little clearer through this experience of losing him, I know also that his vision on life and eternity is now crystal clear. Death gave him new glasses too.