Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
There is a movie I haven’t seen, which was quite a success around the world: Gran Torino, starring Clint Eastwood, released in 2008. Maybe you saw it. But I understand it’s a story about Walt Kowalski, a Korean-war veteran who lives alone, after his wife had died. He is angry with everyone, alienated from his family, and dying with lung cancer. He was a grumpy old man.
The movie addresses two issues: loss and suffering. Now, that’s something we all face at one time or another. In one scene, he is sitting at home and a young priest comes to visit him. Walt is not happy with him—in fact he kicks him out of his house. But this newly ordained priest, Father Janovich, doesn’t give up. He willingly admits that he doesn’t have all the answers. But he does know God won’t give up on Walt.
When Walt eventually dies, Father Janovich says this at his funeral: “Walt Kowalski once said to me that I knew nothing about life or death—he was right. I really knew nothing about life or death, until I got to know Walt—and boy, did I learn”. I think this is a profound statement. The priest was saying he learned something significant about life and death, as he knew one man.
We Need to Prepare for Death
How much do you know about death? It’s not a cheerful topic, I know. We prefer to talk of nicer things. But I’m talking of reality here. You will die one day, and so will I. Read today’s death notices in the newspaper, and you’ll see many names, of various ages, who have left us, and funeral preparations are under way, for family and friends to say goodbye. This is a complex matter which we may look at again.
It reminds me of a lady in her 70s who was told she only had a short time to live. In fact it was 54 days, from the doctor’s announcement until her death. Her family was devastated as you would imagine. They visited her each day, and were distressed. The day of her death, she spoke to her son, Why didn’t someone teach me how to die? We are taught at our mother’s knee how to live, but not how to die. Who knows how to prepare for death?
Brian Sweeney was one of the passengers onboard United Airlines 175 flight that crashed into the Trade World Center on 11 September 2001. He phoned his wife during that flight and left a message—it was heart wrenching. “Hi Jules. It’s Brian. I’m on a plane and it’s highjacked and it doesn’t look good. I just wanted to let you know that I love you and hope to see you again. If I don’t, have fun in life and live your life the best you can. Know that I love you and no matter what, I’ll see you again”. How can you make sense of death in these circumstances? It’s very difficult. Sometimes we do all we can to not think of death.
In Christ There Is No Fear of Death
Death makes us realise of our mortality, our weakness. Death frightens us because we instinctively know that someday we too shall die. Most of all, death makes us think. It makes us think about our own lives, about our priorities, about our goals, about ourselves. And we hate to think about that. So we avoid talking about death at all costs.
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Martin Luther said we should live with the day of our death constantly before our eyes. That way we won’t be surprised when the day finally comes. And come it will. Death is no respecter of persons. The statistics are awesome to contemplate: 1 out of every 1 person will die someday. No-one gets a free pass.
I believe we must take the Bible seriously, and Hebrews 9:27 says, “We die only once, and then we are judged”. And that’s an appointment no-one can skip and no-one can postpone. When we know Jesus Christ as our friend and Saviour, there is no fear in death.
Yes, the idea of dying is frightening—but to know that with Jesus life will not end here in the cemetery, but in Heaven! That is a wonderful thought. And I hope you believe that to be true.
(To be continued in Learning About Death – Part 2)