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Fear Death? Got Just the Prescription

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

Christian hymn

August 05, 2000|JIM CARNETT | Jim Carnett is community relations director of Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know: We live in a hostile environment.

Ours is a harsh, arbitrary universe, and life's vagaries leave us stressed and anxious. Six billion of us share both the same planet and destiny: a brief life followed by death. Perhaps Napoleon was able to achieve a measure of immortality through the many monuments erected in his honor, but the last time I checked, his corpse was still decomposing in a Paris tomb.

We shy away from facing life's inevitabilities, but that's a bit like trying not to think of pink elephants. Once we've resolved not to, pink elephants are about all we can think of. Sometimes, in the quiet hours of a restless night, somber reflections of our mortality seep into our consciousness. Thankfully, they retreat at daybreak.

An atheist would say that people of faith practice their religion because they're unable to accept the fact that they live in a heartless universe with no creator behind it. I wouldn't dispute that. Who wants to live a life that's a 100-meter dash with a brick wall for a finish line?

Twenty years ago, when I first became a follower of Jesus Christ, my life was in need of meaning and hope. After investigating a number of different faith traditions, I continued to founder in quicksand. Finally, I was led to Christ and discovered him to be the rock I was searching for.

In the coming four or five decades, most of us now alive will have met our demise. A hundred years hence everyone now living on Earth--save that hardy yak herder who's spent a lifetime eating yogurt and berries--will be gone. Whether we're cut off before our time by accident or illness or are able to live out our full three score and 10, our span evaporates like a morning mist.

I know a young mother, a committed Christian, who last year nearly lost her life to an aggressive form of cancer. Hundreds in our church prayed for her. She is today in remission, and her physicians say her healing borders on miraculous. She believes it was the hand of God but is the first to admit that her healing is only temporary.

Jesus, in the final weeks of his ministry, visited the grave of a good friend, Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. Before a large crowd of mourners and onlookers, he called Lazarus from the tomb. Remarkably, Lazarus, still cloaked in burial cloths, stumbled into the bright sunlight. Though the Bible is silent about the rest of Lazarus' life, I'm certain that he eventually returned to that tomb.

I'm only speculating, but when he awakened from his experience, Lazarus may have had a 21st-century-like epiphany. Perhaps he saw with new eyes the value of beginning a jogging regimen, switching to a high-fiber diet and purchasing one of those cheesy abs machines. Perhaps not. But we humans seem willing to try almost anything to extend life. Despite our best efforts, we each face a funeral at our end. Lazarus went back into his tomb, and we'll go to ours.

"My life is no longer than the width of my hand," the psalmist broods. Shakespeare labels humans poor players who strut and fret their hour upon the stage, then are heard no more. The rock group Kansas calls us "dust in the wind." Depressing. But good news abounds in the person of Jesus Christ, the solid rock, who willingly went to a Roman cross 20 centuries ago to overcome death. With that single sacrificial act he broke sin's stranglehold on me and brought meaning to my existence.

A good friend of mine likes to say, "Because of Christ, our last breath on Earth will be immediately followed by our first breath in heaven." I like that. Jesus is the bridge between the temporal and eternal, between death and life.

With Christ, we're able to survive in a world of sinking sand and look forward to an eternity spent with the one who created and loves us. We're guaranteed both life during life and life after death. What a deal.


On Faith is a forum for Orange County clergy and others to offer their views on religious topics of general interest. Submissions, which will be published at the discretion of The Times and are subject to editing, should be delivered to Orange County religion page editor Deanne Brandon.

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