The Silent Hour Which Speaks Loudly
To think about one’s death is a sobering reality. Some may even want to read no further learning the subject of this article. A friend put it this way, “Didn’t they realize that to die is to die, whether you are seventeen, forty-nine or one hundred and ten years old? Didn’t they know our death is our death and that each one of us has to die?” It is something we will only have once so we probably need to give some thought to it.
As a Pastor of many years, I am well acquainted with death from those close to me in my own family as well as to the hundreds of funerals conducted. Death goes on but we have come to view it differently. Perhaps because of advances in medicine and even the place of one’s death, which in many instances is a hospital or institution rather than at home, we have pushed it a little further from our conscious awareness.
I remember the day when all the students had to learn and reflect on William Cullen Bryant’s words from “Thanatopsis,” “So live that when thy summons comes to join the innumerable caravan, which moves to that mysterious realm, where each shall take his chamber to the silent halls of death.”
I certainly have no desire to be consumed by sad thoughts or to suggest we fail to enjoy life because of death coming. However, I do have a concern that we may have missed some of the meaning of life in the light of death. Life must be lived in awareness that there is a day coming when we will not be here. There is a legacy to leave which is more than a career and a social life. People can become so engrossed in life there is no time to prepare for death. In many homes the subject of death is never discussed so that children and other family members are totally unprepared for it when it comes. From my own observations, the uneasiness with the subject leads in many cases to the increased trauma associated with death and even the unawareness of the value and purpose of a memorial service.
The Psalmist was wise when he prayed, “Lord teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Part of wisdom is taking stock of our lives. Just as a business conducts an inventory once of year, the thought of death should prompt us to an occasional review and assessment in our lives.
Here are some interesting facts about life and death. “The average life of copper wire is twenty years. The oldest chicken on record lived eighteen years. The average age for a cat is fifteen years. The average life of a dollar bill is eighteen months. The average life of a painted line on the road is three to four months. The average life of a pro basketball players shoes is two weeks. The average life of a tornado is ten minutes. And the average life of a human is 25,550 days.”
A closer look at the context of that verse in Psalms 90 reveals that these words came from Moses following his experience in the desert. You will remember he watched a generation die over approximately thirty-eight years. A million people perished during that time. He was surrounded by death. That averages out to be about a hundred deaths a day out of the people he was leading. He spoke out of the wisdom which comes from watching death.
The hour of death does speak loudly. “Often it hangs heavy with memories which march through numbed minds.” It is a time when the deepest realities of life take shape because grief stops us in our tracks from all the other things in life which grab our consciousness. That which is unreal becomes the most real. And most of all, it is in this hour God speaks in tones we are willing to hear.
His voice reminds us that humanity is not immortal. Our life, both here on earth and in eternity, is a gift from God, not a right of man. Death reminds us that the universe does not revolve around us. God is more important than we are.
His voice also raises the awareness that our only hope and help in this supreme hour is God. Mortality is more like a bondage than freedom. It holds us hostage to all the frailties of body and soul. We are more controlled by the environment of life than we control it. We are utterly helpless to fend off the reality of death for those around us as well as ourselves. Therefore, in every tribe through every generation, there has been an awareness of a higher being with whom we must deal in death even if we have ignored in life. Even the most pagan of religions is recognition of something and someone outside ourselves.
His voice in this hour redirects our thoughts from ourselves to the Christian understanding of life and death. It is the gracious act of God in Christ who gives meaning and hope to this hour. Death, instead of victor has become “a slave of the risen Christ.” It is bereft of its terror. Somerset Maughn said, “Death is a very dull and dreary affair. My advice for you is to have nothing to do with it. In contrast to that view is that of Paul who said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” “Gain” is a term from the business world. It means to make a profit. The bottom line of death is not losing, but gaining, not an end but a beginning, not a departure as much as an arrival, not goodbye as much as hello and not a separation but a reunion.” Death has the power to separate the body from the familiarity of this life on earth, but not from God.
Paul also reminds us further about grief. He counsels not that grief is inappropriate, but rather, not to “grieve as those who have no hope.” Tears and the feelings of loss which come through separation are normal responses of our human nature. However, we must be careful to realize we are more than human. Of all the tragedies that befall the Christian as a part of humanity, the deepest tragedy is for the hurt, the sorrow we feel and the death we experience around us not to be used by God for positive purposes. Even when death occurred at unexpected times and in tragic circumstances, Christians hold onto the promise of God in Romans 8:28. Our God can bring good out of any circumstance. We must be careful not to stand in the way of God speaking to those who need to hear around us while we are so caught up in our own grief.
From time to time I hear people jokingly saying, “I got up this morning and my name was not in the obituary column, so I guess I’m living.” It would also help us to rethink what would be said about us and more importantly, what would be our state if our name was in the obituary column. Our death yet to come needs to speak loudly to us if we are unprepared spiritually to die. It will speak loudly to those close to us after we are gone about what we thought was important in life and death. Be sure they will hear a message which will give meaning to their lives and hope of life beyond death which comes through Christ.