I should have died in 1973. I was riding my motorbike to school for games, taking the High Court/St George’s Church (Penang) corner when suddenly my bike skidded and I fell. There must have been oil on the road. If a car or lorry had been following close behind, the vehicle would have run over me. Instead I got up, winded, bruised and shaken, and with a lot of skin missing from my right shin, but alive. There were even compensations. When I reached school, my school mates were concerned, especially the ladies. One of them, the freshie queen if I recall correctly, took me to the nearby convent (her alma mater) where a nun did a good Good Samaritan. No she didn’t dress my wounds with wine and oil. It was more Dettol (ouch) and Flavine. But I lived.
Well I could have died in 1972. I was tinkering around with an amplifier with a friend (those were the days of vinyl records) and I almost touched a live wire. My friend warned me just in time. My fingers were close enough to get a spark from the wire. But I survived. And these are just the near death experiences I am aware of. When I get to view the movie of my life in the new heavens and the new earth I will probably get to see many other instances when angels kept me from dying. Maybe we are immortal until our work on earth is done (George Whitefield).
One of the movies I sometimes show my discipleship groups is Dead Poets Society. Here is a key exchange early in the movie:
Thank you for playing anyway. Because we are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die.
Keating turns towards the trophy cases, filled with trophies, footballs, and team pictures.
Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.
The students slowly gather round the cases and Keating moves behind them.
They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?
Because you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.
The boys lean in and Keating hovers over Cameron’s shoulder.
(whispering in a gruff voice) Carpe.
Cameron looks over his shoulder with an aggravated expression on his face.
(whispering again) Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.
The boys stare at the faces in the cabinet in silence.
I like the movie but I don’t believe that this life is all there is. There is another time and place beyond this life for those who are in Christ. In many ways this life is preparation and testing for the life yet to come. But the call to embrace life and to live it to the full is welcome and biblical. Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 5:15-17:
Therefore be very careful how you live – not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. (NET)
And in Psalm 90, Moses had this to say:
. . . the years of our lives pass quickly, like a sigh.
The days of our lives add up to seventy years,
or eighty, if one is especially strong.
But even one’s best years are marred by trouble and oppression.
Yes, they pass quickly and we fly away.
Who can really fathom the intensity of your anger?
Your raging fury causes people to fear you.
So teach us to consider our mortality,
so that we might live wisely. (Psalm 90:9b–12 NET)
We are not to live our lives in fear, obsessed by our mortality but we are to live our lives wisely, “taking advantage of every opportunity.” Paul tells us that we are to do so because we live in a fallen evil world.
Although (believers) live in the midst of these evil days as they await their final redemption, they are neither to avoid them nor to fear them. Rather, they are to live wisely, taking advantage of every opportunity in this fallen world to conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to God. (Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999, 383.)
As we come to the end of another year, we hear afresh the Spirit whispering to us, no, not carpe diem (seize the day), but “live wisely.” And we hear the Lord calling us, no, not to live extraordinary lives, but to live lives that are pleasing to Him, committed to loving God and neighbour at His leading. For most of us, this will not mean that we are called to do more things, but to pause and listen afresh for His directions so that we do the right things. Therefore, most of us should end the year taking our place next to Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42) — nurtured by His love, and listening to His Word and His words for us.
Will we still be in this world by the end of 2011? Or will we be with Jesus? Doesn’t matter. We are not food for worms. We are much more than that. But we are called to be good stewards of the time entrusted to us.