In every culture across time and space, social psychologists have identified what’s known as Terror Management Theory. The stories we tell, the narratives we believe, the worldviews we worship that convince ourselves of immortality, that pacify our fear of dying.
We search for elixirs, magic cures, fountains of youth, stem cells that will make us ageless. Or cling to the soul, a timeless avatar of our essence that remains after the flesh pot of flesh dies and decays. Or legacy, that we will be famous enough to be remembered, have enough children never to be forgotten. (Paraphrased talk from Steven Cave)
The world is forever convincing us to be death dodgers.
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
How do we have a faithful Christian death?
By praying for the every people who murder us up until our last breath.
Practicing a life worth living.
In the same we follow Jesus in life, follow him in death modeling his forgiveness on the cross.
A palliative nurse surveyed the top regrets among the dying recounting,
Wish I had chosen to be happier.
Wish I had not worked so hard.
Wish I had been more courageous in sharing my feelings.
Wish I had spent more time with friends.
Wish I had lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Walker Evans says, “Stare, pry, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. We’re not here very long.”
Understandably then, believers with the least regret who are the most alive live where death is nearby, where martyrdom is always just a stone’s throw away.
Christianity, for the 2000 years since Stephen, has been extending the invitation, not to join the Church, but to join Christ. Join his life, his ministry and his death.
A campus minister and Dean of the Chapel tells of a young undergraduate who came to university with her life planned out, her life decided long ago by her parents. She was pre-law, set-up to clerk at the highest court during the summer, graduate from law school and take over her father’s firm. But she started going to church, and soon after joined a bible study and every other offering. The minister received an angry call from her parents saying their daughter had decided to spend her Spring Break doing mission work, had switched majors, would no longer be coming home as planned. That whatever Jesus was being preached at school was ruining their family, killing their daughter. (Paraphrased story from William Willimon)
If you want to be first, then be last. If you want to gain your life, then lose it. If you want to live, then just die.