One British newscaster declared the queen’s death “a time we had all hoped would never happen.” Others on social media expressed similar disbelief. A lady interviewed on TV said, “I am shocked. I don’t know what to say.” Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament, “We had been lulled into thinking she might be in some way eternal.”
Even after nearly a century of life, when the queen’s death came, it still had a way of catching us off guard, didn’t it?
What is this all about? Why are we still so surprised by the death of those who have lived long lives, even when it comes to those less well known than the queen, people we have mourned in our own lives?
It’s not natural, that’s why. Death was not part of the original plan, and somewhere within us, we seem to understand that.
When God created people, He made them to live forever in perfect relationship with Him and each other. He had one condition, just one rule they had to follow. And when Adam and Eve broke the rule, everything else broke with it. We see that all around us.
Part of what broke was life itself. “You are dust and you will return to dust,” God tells Adam after he and Eve eat the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden. Note that God tells them this after they fell, and not before. Death was not a part of God’s plan, but rebellion against God, which continues to this day, is so serious it even causes life itself to cease.
While their rebellion introduced death into the world, it did not completely snuff out the inkling within us that death doesn’t have to have the final say. The urge to live forever, and the protest against death that comes at these moments of surprise, is a seed within our souls that points to that original plan. Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, would eventually write one of the most poetic statements about this in his book, Ecclesiastes: “He (that is, God) has put eternity in our hearts.”
A longing for eternity
Have you ever wondered why God would let this original desire for a never-ending life to continue to reside in us, even though we have fallen so far from His original plan, even though we have turned our backs on Him time and time again? That he kept this seed of eternity in our hearts is a sign of God’s incredible grace and love for His wayward people. In our rebellion, God could have rightly withdrawn that desire that we have for everlasting life, and the effect would have been deep, deep hopelessness, because we would have no idea that there was anything beyond this present life. Our lives would be, in a word, meaningless.
But God, rich in mercy, let that longing for eternity remain so that we would look for its source. Every time someone dies, and that jolt of surprise, is an invitation to, in a Latin phrase I learned recently, “memento mori.” Or, in the less poetic English translation: “Remember that you have to die.” And in dying, we will see our Creator face to face.
Even the queen, who spent 70 years of her life being bowed to, had to, in the end, bow her knee to a King who reigns over all earthly sovereigns.
This should provoke a question: Am I ready?
It can be a troubling question. But Jesus, soon before His own death, told his friends that there is a way to face this question and not be troubled. “Believe in God; believe also in me,” Jesus told them, according to his friend John’s account. “…You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Confused, his friend Thomas asked, “Lord we don’t know…so how can we know the way?”
To which, Jesus gave one of his most famous answers: “I am the way…”
Jesus’ answer to how we get to the other side of death is Himself. It’s in turning from the ways of this world to follow Him that we find, in the words to the rest of his statement, “the truth and the life.”
So, if you’re shocked when death comes, don’t be surprised about your surprise. It’s God’s gracious gift to you. It’s a gift that is meant to get you thinking. A gift that is meant to point you to the original plan. A gift that is meant to introduce you to Jesus.
He is the way. He alone can lead you to your forever home. He is ready to have you follow.