Death is Life’s Change Agent

Oct 08th 2011

I watched someone die yesterday.  I wasn’t close and I couldn’t actually see her…at the time we weren’t even sure there was a “her.”  We looked out the window at Harvest Fields moments after the accident took place.  We saw people get out and rush to the car to help whomever was inside, but before they could get there, the car was engulfed in flames.

I don’t know her name.  I don’t know how the accident happened.  I don’t know if she had a family.  I don’t know the ways in which she loved and touched the lives of people around her.  But I would guess that she loved and was loved.  I am certain that she is and will be missed.

Yesterday I quoted from a Stanford commencement speech given by Steve Jobs.  He said,

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

Those words give a certain sense of hope and inspiration.  It is a clarion call to live life now.  It brings to mind great lines like: “You only live once.” “Seize the moment.” and “Make your life count.”  But the hope is limited; “…someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.”

How much comfort would those words give a funeral?  How much comfort would those words give to someone who doesn’t have the same opportunities to “seize the moment” as someone in my current shoes or Steve Job’ sneakers?

Now here’s the deal.  If there is nothing beyond death, then those words of inspiration spoken at a Stanford commencement are perhaps the best gospel around.  But hope always has an object and what (or who) we choose as the object of our hope matters.  Who (or what) I choose as the object of my hope will shape how I live my life.

The apostle Paul was not the object of his own hope, and his hope went beyond this life. In his letter to the church at Corinth, he wrote, “If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men, the most pitiable.”  It was that hope that gave him the passion and perseverance to change the world.

I agree with Jobs, death is life’s great change agent.  But I have a different hope for the changes it brings.  Paul wrote, “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Even though outwardly we are wasting away, on the inside we are being renewed day by day.  For our troubles, which will only last a short time are shaping us for a far more wonderful and eternal glory.

Those words birth life-changing…and death-defying hope.