As you read this article, I will have already performed a very emotional funeral. Corresponding to all meanings of the two words, it was tragic and puzzling. No one should be taken so early as my friend was from our home to a home we only know about in dreams and poems and sacred passages. You don’t expect active and lively 42-year-olds to enter eternity in their sleep.
But, it happens. Know why? Because we are finite. You are. I am.
We have a number. There is a number of years, months, days, minutes, and seconds correspondent to your life and mine. This body just doesn’t live forever. Truthfully, when I heard the news of this friend having crossed eternity’s threshold, I couldn’t believe my ears. It was absolutely unexpected.
As my ears took it in, my soul’s thoughts were shocked into two streams. I immediately thought of this young family–a wonderful wife and three young sons. What would they do next? How they would handle this–and these, suddenly, new and difficult conditions of life? I thought of how our church could be a strength and a supply and a family to them. These thoughts flooded my soul in those first seconds.
Yet, just as immediately as I thought of them–almost at a deeper level–I was quickly and concurrently thrust into thoughts about myself. (Of course, not in a selfish way. Quite the opposite. My spiritual brother’s passing registered with my creaturely meditations as a stark, reminding prompt that I am a mortal, too. I am finite.)
I am not God.
Forever isn’t my middle name. And anything that can have a beginning will most assuredly have an end.
It sobered me, honestly, like no other death I’ve experienced before as a person or as a pastor.
Maybe for the first time I was prepared to consider my own limited scope. I, too, am going to die. Or, probably more poignantly said: I, too, am going to enter Eternity. I, too, will feel the Real Presence of my Creator. You and I need moments of Eternal Intersection to remind us (maybe even shock us) that we aren’t here forever. We are fashioned, as creatures made in the Image of our Creator, to recognize and respond to these unexpected, life-saving alerts.
In 1984, a Spanish-based airline, Air Avianca, had a jet crash straightway into a mountain. The authorities combed the debris for the black box–as they always do in such incidents. The black box, as you know, records data that normally allows authorities to reconstruct the moments leading up to the accident and replay the cockpit voice recordings. What they found was startling. About a minute before the accident, a shrill computer-generated voice (automated to intone at a certain altitude) was heard to say repeatedly, “Pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up.” To which he pilot literally and inexplicably snapped back: “Shut up, Gringo.” Proceeding to flip the alert system off. Seconds later, he flew his plane directly into the face of the mountain, ending many lives. Including his own.
Moments like mine the other day are alerts to PULL UP. Alerts we are not meant to ignore. “Set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits…think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your REAL LIFE is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3–nlt).