(Photo: Dan Delzell)
Mark Twain said, "Truth is stranger than fiction." The famous movie critic, Roger Ebert, can add a new twist to that line. In an article this week entitled, "I Remember You," Ebert traveled down the rabbit hole of a humanistic explanation of death. Amidst all the movies Ebert has reviewed over the years, this real life and death drama has challenged him far more than any film on the big screen. That is because death, like truth, is also stranger than fiction.
Man seems to race through life doing almost anything to avoid thinking about his own death. At some point however, the thought of death is unavoidable. Ebert describes the many e-mails he now receives with word of this person or that person passing away. He explains how even the memories of those people begin to fade away over time. Ebert writes, "That is what death means. We exist in the minds of other people, in thousands of memory clusters, and one by one those clusters fade and disappear. Some years from now, at a funeral with a slide show, only one person will be able to say who we were. Then no one will know." Without Christ, that would be exactly right. Pretty disheartening stuff.
The message of Jesus Christ is that death for the believer is the beginning of the most glorious experience we could ever know. Rather than being forgotten by everyone, we will be making new friends throughout eternity in paradise. Our family and friends who come to heaven will never forget about us. And our Lord will know us and we will know Him. Humanism is a bummer. Christianity is invigorating. Your life on earth does not have to be limited to a humanistic understanding of death.
Without hope for life beyond the grave, the oncoming train of death is indeed depressing, foreboding, and frightening. Our minds cannot process it properly or happily. We typically choose to punt when backed into that mental corner. It feels much better to get lost in fiction than to face our deepest fears and seek out the ultimate answer to them.
Solomon is all of his wisdom once wrote, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart." (Ecclesiastes 7:2) For many, this reality does not take hold until late in life. That avoidance is especially tragic for those who die young and without warning.
Are you afraid to contemplate your own death? I don't blame you my friend. It is an overwhelming thought. Here is what I can tell you. Millions of people over the centuries have been able to rise above the psychological doom and gloom which the prospect of death gives us. When you embrace Jesus and His death and resurrection through faith, your spirit will come alive and you will suddenly have a completely different understanding about life and death. You won't have that knowledge until after you receive Christ into your life. No other prophet and no other religion will give you that assurance.
Roger Ebert once reviewed a movie dealing with death entitled, "Meet Joe Black." In that film, there is a memorable exchange about the certainty of "death and taxes." Both of those things come due at a certain point in time. None of us look forward to the process of dying, or the payment of taxes. But when it comes to the monumental topic of death, there is another certainty you can be given as well. You can receive the certainty of life beyond the grave in a wonderful place.
Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25,26) That may sound very strange to you....almost unbelievable. And yet, when you place your faith in Christ's promise, you enter a new dimension of reality, perspective, and awareness. There is no way to fully explain it to someone looking in from the outside. A person must first experience the new birth before he can appreciate this new awareness.
In the end, it's not about who we are able to remember.....or who on earth is able to remember us. It's about Jesus remembering to bring us into His heavenly kingdom for all of eternity. One of the men who was crucified next to Jesus came to understand that fact. He said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:42) Sure enough, that is exactly what God has done for him. While on the cross, Jesus told the man, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) The Lord never forgets those who place their faith in Him.
Roger Ebert is on to something. Death is indeed stranger than fiction. A movie can entertain us for a couple of hours. The inevitability of death can haunt us for a lifetime if we let it. The good news is that there is a way to escape this morbid mentality of hopelessness. And it provides much more than just a peaceful mindset on earth, as great as that is in itself. Christ actually transports us to a new and perfect world after our dying body finally gives out. In that world, no one will be relying upon fiction to sooth their soul and help them forget about death and dying. That mental method of escape is only practiced on this planet by those who don't know where else to turn with their boredom and their fears.
You really don't have to remain afraid of dying my friend. You can come out of the dark and trust in Jesus. Only He can turn your memories and your longings into an ongoing and eternal experience of joy. The question for you now is this: Will you consider and remember these words long enough for them to change your life and your death?
You see....reviewing an article or a movie is one thing; actually becoming part of the divine drama yourself is an altogether different experience. It's the difference between truth and fiction.