skullIt was a strange compliment. And it went something like this: “I really liked your sermon at the funeral service. It made me want to die.” For an Asian to voice anything resembling a death-wish is mucho ‘pantang'(taboo). I suspect this sentiment is fairly universal.

And then there is the apostle Paul. My sermon was basically an exposition of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. There Paul says things like: “In this present body we groan, yearning to be covered by our heavenly habitation put on over this one…” (v.2)

“We are confident, I say, and would rather be exiled from the body and make our home with the Lord.” (v.8)

In case you missed his point, Paul says in Phillipians 1:21-24: “For me to live is Christ, and death is gain. If I am to go on living in the body there is fruitful work for me to do. Which then am I to choose? I cannot tell.

I am pulled two ways: my own desire is to depart and be with Christ–that is better by far; but for your sake the greater need is for me to remain in the body.” REB

No confusion here. Paul preferred to die. Because for Paul, dying was not the end of things. It was the final consummation with his Divine Lover, the entry into unfettered fullness of life. Yet he was willing to stay because staying in his earthly body meant fruitful duty for his Lord. (No hint here of suicide though. For Paul, God was boss. It was His call if and when it was time to go.) In a nutshell, for Paul, death was consummation. And life was duty.

It is a sentiment that sounds so unreal to modern ears (unless you are at end stage cancer and in considerable pain, perhaps.) For most of us, soaked in the dreams fed to us by the marketing mavens of the consumer world, this life is consummation. (But it never is, of course.) And dying is, well, dying is a duty.

In fact we hardly think about dying at all. Middle-class Christians are right up there with the rest of the non-believing death-deniers. At least the non-believers can be excused for shunning death if they believe that death is the end of being. What excuses do we have?

Perhaps a robust biblical doctrine of death is THE need for evangelical theology today. It didn’t seem to have done Paul any harm. In fact it may have been the reason why he lived life so passionately.

I had the privilege of reading the Scriptures to my wife as she lay dying from cancer. Loaded with morphine her attention span was short.
One of the few passages that she would ask me to read more than once was Phillipians 1: 21-24. Perhaps we could all take a cue from her.

For we are all ‘dying’. When we embrace that truth, and understand what death really means for believers, we may find the secret of really living.