2 people died yesterday. The first you may have heard of.
Steve Irwin was famous as “The Crocodile Hunter”. He entertained and educated millions of us with his natural history programs, defying death as he taught us about snakes, komodo dragons and (of course) crocodiles.
There is a bitter irony, then, that he was killed not by one of his beloved crocodiles or something equally ferocious but by a normally placid stingray. Of course, they have a nasty barb but they normally leave well enough alone. But this is the reality of life, we think we can control it but we really can’t. It is God who determines our days and try as we might we are not going to be able to stop Him. As a result, death is unavoidable.
Ecclesiastes 9:3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.
Ultimately, we are like the beasts – we will all die. No amount of money or bravery saved Irwin or will console his family. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes knows this and laments the fact, especially since “under the sun” (his way of describing life without consideration of God) this would mean that our memory is quickly forgotten. There is talk here in Australia of a state funeral for Irwin. It would be a great thing but it would also perhaps be a futile gesture to hold onto what cannot be retained. Who even really thinks of Princess Diana anymore? People like her and Irwin contribute great amounts to our society yet all their work soon disappears into the very back corners of our minds and their statues are covered with lichen and graffiti.
Someone else died yesterday.
A good friend of ours called at 8am. Her husband works as a roofer and that morning one of his crew had fallen from a height and died. She was distraught. The man who died was a friend of theirs and had his own family. Who would care for them now? The fact that he had refused to wear a harness was an irrelevance – the man was dead and would not be coming back. Talk of hiring a solicitor and calling the insurance company were necessary but seemingly flippant concerns. Above all, she could not understand how such bad things happen to apparently good people.
Death is like that. It confronts us in a way that nothing else does. It is the great enemy over whom we will never be victorious. You may bankrupt a man and take his reputation but these may, in time, be restored. But death is final. It’s been my experience, doing the job that I do, that death is the only thing that will really get people to stop and consider their lives. Either that or they launch themselves into desperate denial. And particularly a premature death. 4 years ago I sat with members of the Singapore Cricket Club as they mourned the death of their friends who were murdered in the Bali bomb attack. They had no answer. Nothing. Death was something that happened every day and yet when it came calling at their own door they had no response.
The greater misery in all this is that those who mourn often do not understand the depths of the tragedy of death. For not only does it bring relationships to an abrupt end but it also hurtles individuals towards assessment; a severe taxation. Death brings judgement, that is the sobering truth and so many of those that we know are oblivious to it. Bad things happen to good people, to some extent that’s true. But at the same time there really is not one of us who can claim to be good and who can thus stand confident in that judgement.
So where do we go?
Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
There is judgement, and there is a judge – Jesus Christ and He is coming on the clouds to take his own home with him, those who eagerly await for him. This is the only confidence we can have in the face of death. For the same one who taxes us also may be our respite from that judgement, if only we trust Him. That’s why the Teacher, continuing to reflect upon the inevitabiliy of death, notes:
Ecclesiastes 7:15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.
The one who fears God shall come out from both of them.