A life or death question

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If you could find out the date of your own death, would you?

As morbid as this question is, I believe a person’s answer can reveal a lot about them—their worldview, personality type and tendencies, and even the idols they worship. But in these uncertain times, when pandemic panic makes it easy to ruminate about death, destruction and the end of the world, this question isn’t just an interesting conversation starter. It’s confronting.

The news is plagued with graphic footage of women wrestling over household necessities, old and young people alike curled up and coughing uncontrollably on the streets, red lines trending sharply downwards as our economy enters unchartered territory. In a matter of days, life as we know it has changed dramatically.

Yet, at the same time, it’s all a bit surreal. I sit in the safety of my own living room here in Australia—socially isolated, yes, but still warm, still fed, still comfortable—as the world unravels around me. While some families and businesses face eviction or bankruptcy, I’m working from home in my pyjamas. While other governments can’t help their citizens, mine is offering a $A189 billion stimulus package. While hospitals overseas are overflowing and under-resourced, ours are (so far) coping. [pullquote]

Like being suspended in a slow-motion shoot-em-up sequence, I’m watching the bullets inch closer and closer but without getting hit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly prepared to dodge the bullets: I read my Bible, watch the news, wash my hands and practise social distancing. But I’m also in some serious denial. It’s easy to detach from the headlines, succumb to compassion fatigue and reduce people to statistics.

But this denial isn’t a new experience or phenomenon brought about by end-of-the-world fear-mongering. I’ve been practising denial, 24/7, for as long as I’ve been alive. As a one-percenter, I take my education, employment, family, food, clothing and comfort for granted. I have everything I need and more. I live and breathe complacency.

Matthew 24:37-39 says, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; they didn’t know what would happen until the flood came and took them away.”

I don’t want to be one of the complacent mockers who rolls their eyes and laughs at that gargantuan boat. I don’t want to be one of the five foolish virgins who don’t have enough oil in their lamps (Matthew 25). I don’t want to be lukewarm and spat out of God’s mouth at the end of time (Revelation 3:16). I want to be an on-fire Christian, always prepared for today to be my last on this earth; always spreading God’s message of hope wherever I go.

So, getting back to my opening question, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”—not because my death could still be sixty-plus years away, but because I’m really hopeful the answer will be “Error, date not found”. And even if the answer is a clear date, I want that date to be sooner rather than later. I believe we’re living in the last days and all I want, desperately, is to be held in my Father’s arms and never let Him go.

Whether this pandemic marks the end, or whether these are just the beginning of labour pains (Matthew 24:8), it’s terrifying and exciting all at once. Perhaps God is testing each and every one of us in this time of panic; perhaps the uncertainty is an opportunity to strengthen our faith and connections with one another, just like it was for the disciples in early Acts. I see widespread fear drawing people together, opening up new conversations, spurring existential questions, and a new desire for the hope and peace Jesus offers.

So will you embrace our name and hasten the Advent? Are you willing to radically transform your priorities, perspective and attitude as we see the day approaching? Or will you continue as a sleeping virgin, as though you’ve got 60-plus years of life left to spare?

God, please wake me up before it’s too late!

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