On Life’s Brevity

One second you are perfectly healthy – or so it seems – and the next second you are gone. It happens all the time. So many people will simply not reach their threescore and ten. It may be an accident or some other unforeseen thing, and/or something quite inexplicable.

My dad passed away not too long ago, but he reached the ripe old age of 94. So he got to die of old age basically. I will be doing well to live that long. If we can live to such a long life that is a real blessing. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Sadly too many lives are cut short for any number of reasons.

I say all this for what may be a relatively minor reason. But I just witnessed a death of a loved one – just a family pet however. But her very sudden and unexpected death has once again reminded me afresh of the brevity of life – for both man and beast.

I had just got back from a speaking engagement, and had just fed our two cats (sisters), and dog. A few minutes later I let Aeris out onto the back deck. Within moments she teetered and toppled for a few seconds and then fell over – I was the only one to witness the whole thing.

One of my sons and I ran her to the nearby vet which was closed, but it had an emergency phone number. The vet lived a few minutes away and came over quite quickly. He did a brief examination and confirmed our fears – yep, she was dead.

She was 11 years old so was not a spring chicken, but not ancient either. She had been just fine and perfectly normal all along – but then all of a sudden she was gone. It seems it may have been a heart issue or some such thing. So we just finished digging a hole in the back yard, showed her to the boys for a last time, and buried our Aeris.

She was a very nice cat. Loved our youngest boy and always slept with him. If he spent the night elsewhere she would meow half the night. She loved to lick his ear as well – funny cat. So now she is gone. Sad, but such is life – and death.

Thus even though it was just a pet, it is still a moving thing. And it of course reminds us like a slap in the face about the brevity of life: here today, gone tomorrow. This is something every single one of us must keep in mind – whether believer or unbeliever.

For people in both camps we must heed carefully such passages as Psalm 39:4: “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” Or Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

As we are reminded in Hebrews 9:27, “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. And that is true of all of us. As far as believers go, we will all face the judgment of Christ as to how we lived our Christian life. Our appearance before the judgment seat of Christ will not be about our salvation but about our works (see for example Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:13; and 2 Corinthians 5:9-11).

But as far as unbelievers go, they will appear before God on the day of judgment to face the music for rejecting God and his son Jesus. At that moment, every unbeliever will instantly know they are not atheists, or agnostics. They will see the God they have rejected all their life, and they will stand with head dropped, mouth closed, and without excuse.

We have only one life to get things right, so we must choose wisely. And we dare not think we can just put things off. We never know which day will be our last. Jesus told a powerful parable about all this; in Luke 12:13-21 we find the Parable of the Rich Fool:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

This parable is not only about the sheer folly of greed and selfishness. It is about presuming that we will have all the time in the world, and that we can somehow cheat death. It is also about how we think we can cheat God. Such a person is a fool of course. Indeed, “the fool says in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

Thus the great irony of v. 20: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” As Philip Graham Ryken comments, “These words are chilling in their irony. When God tells the man that his soul will be ‘required,’ he uses the same terminology a banker would use to call in a loan. God is telling the man that his loan is now due – the loan of his mortal existence. His life has always belonged to God, and now God is coming to claim it.”

That of course applies to each and every one of us. We are all God’s by creation, and some – the believers – doubly so, by redemption as well. We are not our own, and we will all one day give an account. And the very short time we have on planet earth may be even shorter for some.

We may find our life coming to an end at any moment. That is a sobering thought, and one which we all need to regard carefully. And we get many stark reminders of this all along our journey. I was very bluntly reminded of this just a few short hours ago.

I was the only one to see Aeris breathe her last. One moment she was walking and eating just like she always had, and the next moment she was gone. Gone in an instant. That image will long stay in my mind. And what is true of animals is just as true of people.

Thus ensuring that we are right with God is certainly our number one priority in life. And after that, making sure we are right with one another is the next biggest priority. How many people will head off to work tomorrow, never to return? How many kids will take off for school in the morning, and that will be the last time their parents will ever see them alive?

We need to live with very short accounts. We are all “on loan” in this life. We need to make sure our relationship with God is where it is meant to be, and with one another. As James wrote, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14).

Yep, we sure are. Do not for one moment presume upon the grace of God, and the life you now have. It may not last till tomorrow. “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.”

[1385 words]

8 Replies to “On Life’s Brevity”

  1. Hi Bill –

    Although not directly related to the above post, I just wanted to say that I greatly appreciate your writings and contribution to the wider debate of things in society.

    I lost my father suddenly to a heart attack (several years ago now), and you are certainly correct that life can change in an instant.

    Sobering thoughts indeed.
    Cheers, Pete Sneesby

  2. Sorry to hear of the loss of your father. My mother recently died at 97, the youngest of 15 children all but one very long lived. Not long after that I got into an argument with an Internet atheist who crassly demanded to know in which hospital she died so he could tell me whether or not she was euthanised. Apparently he “knew” which Australian hospitals practised illicit euthanasia. What a pig! She died of pneumonia.
    John Snowden

  3. I have always been moved by the delicate balance, between life and death. The spark that God puts there can as you respectfully explain just vanishes. My family has 2 cats both black and white which have provided us with no end of entertainment. But on the other hand, Saturday morning I found a dead cat on my front lawn, not ours but still, not nice. We waited a few hours and with no collar we decided to bury her in our back yard too.
    Daniel Kempton

  4. Years ago, when I had been a teacher I had given an address during the morning assembly. Part of my message was that we never know how long we have got to live. It might be a year, a month, a day or even as little as the next five minutes.

    I must say that as I descended the platform and entered the staffroom, I was a little sceptical, of my own message. Did I really believe what I just said. However, I was immediately confronted by the Head of Science, a Cambridge man and atheist, who had been present at my address. I had never seen him so furious. It was awesome, but very embarrassing in front of the rest of the staff who were just re-entering the staffroom.

    I said to him that I was sorry but I had to go and register my sixth form and would return shortly when I could more fully listen to his objections.

    Within ten minutes I returned, only to be met with a terrible atmosphere that one could cut with a knife. No one was talking.

    “Was my assembly that bad?” I asked myself.

    But it wasn’t that; for behind one of the doors leading out of the staffroom, lay the dead body of the Head of Classics, another God-hater. He had keeled over from a massive heart attack, probably during my contretemps with Head of Science. He had not been present during my assembly but the others had and was dramatic proof of the Psalmist’s words:

    “…..he knows how we are formed,he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass,they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more…”

    David Skinner, UK

  5. My mother died of breast cancer I think four years ago. It wasn’t fun especially since she had kept hidden from us that she found a lump on her breast one year before she was finally taken to hospital. That was the hardest part that more than likely she would still be around, but thankfully I know that it is only time before I see her again and I know that she is now no longer is in pain. Ps 116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. It is precious because she is now with the Lord and in his presence.
    Ian Nairn

  6. Wow David, That’s powerful. Just today I had a scene from the movie Armageddon flash through my mind for no apparent reason. It was the scene where Michael Clarke Duncan’s character is being flown around in a fighter jet and he is screaming in fear of his life. Less than a couple of hours later I opened the Herald Sun website to read that he just passed away.

    Mario Del Giudice

  7. Hi Bill sobering thoughts, death is the ultimate confrontation (and enemy) and we all tend to put it out of our minds but it was never meant to be and only came as a result of sin. I have seen a few people die including my parents and lost others who were best friends, one in a freak accident and one to cancer.
    I have always struggled with funerals and how what is said is more often out of touch with reality. Most seem bent to false comfort somehow deceiving themselves that everyone goes to heaven. I have had to conduct a number including my mothers and a likable nephew who was murdered without reason by a long time friend of his who turned out to be a psychopathic killer. He came for a visit one Christmas eve bearing gifts for all the family including 6 shots for my nephew out in the vegetable patch and a drug overdose to take his own life the next day.
    If the grave of someone we knew doesn’t point us to our need for an antidote to the poison in out souls and show us we are lost and hell bound already, nothing will, but most of us avoid the thought because it requires something that is humiliating of us. I find death always confronting, even of a pet.

    Rob Withall

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