"I am always thinking for the best. There is always a solution in life. This is what my father has taught me: to always face difficulties and hope for the best."
This is how one elderly person describes the key to long life, part of a fascinating new study by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. It reports that such optimism, along with stubbornness, a love for family and country, and a willingness to work hard are traits common among a group of Italians aged ninety to 101.
However, before you decide that optimistic stubbornness is all you need to live longer, take note: other studies claim that owning a dog, drinking coffee, and doing more push-ups and sit-ups contribute to longevity. But another study warns that too much exercise can raise your risk of an early death.
Here's a fact: no matter how long you live, you won't live on this planet forever.
If we will all die (unless the Lord returns first), why do we try so hard to fight the fact of our mortality?
Jesus is still the Great Physician
One reason is God-given: our Lord cares about our physical health.
Jesus was noted far and wide for his healing ministry (Matthew 4:23-25). The apostles were famous for the healing power of the Spirit at work through them (Acts 5:12-16). The apostle John prayed for Gaius "that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul" (3 John 2).
God calls physicians and scientists to partner with him in healing bodies today. When a baby born with her heart outside her body survived because of extraordinary medical care, I believe her Father in heaven rejoiced.
In my work as Resident Scholar for Ethics with Baylor Scott & White Health, I have marveled at the God-given talents of doctors and care providers. A baby was born recently at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas as the result of a transplanted uterus–the first in the US. Many patients who would have died just a few years ago are experiencing remarkable health through genetic medicine advances.
God wants us to care for our physical bodies even as we care for our souls. He grieves when we are sick and suffering and wants us to pray for health and long life. Christians never truly die–the moment we take our last breath on earth, we take our first breath in heaven (Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:21). But we should seek to glorify God on earth as long as we are on earth.
Death is still the great enemy
A second fact seems contrary to the first: death is "the last enemy to be destroyed" (1 Corinthians 15:26). It is especially frightening for those who are not prepared to face it. If you're not sure where you will go when you die, it's clearly not safe to die.
Note the many ways we seek to ignore or obfuscate the reality of our mortality. We use euphemisms such as "he passed on" or "she left us" to avoid saying that a person "died."
There was a day when nearly every funeral I conducted included an open casket and a processional past the deceased person's body. Today there is seldom an open casket even at the cemetery or a body present at the memorial service. This change is in part a way of giving families privacy at the graveside service, but it is also a way for some to avoid the fact of death.
If I don't know where a road leads, I'll avoid taking it. If I'm already on such a road with no exit ramps in sight, I'll avoid thinking about its destination. I'll focus on the journey, ignoring the fact that it will end one day.
This refusal to confront our mortality is a very effective tool of the devil in keeping people from considering their need for Jesus. In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis quoted a demonic tempter: "The safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
That's why followers of Jesus need to be courageous in talking to people about their need for Jesus. I know that such conversations can seem confrontational. But if you were an oncologist and knew a patient had cancer, would you risk hurting their feelings to tell them their condition? If you had the cure for their disease, would you pay any personal price to share it with them?
The measure of our love for lost people is our willingness to tell them they are lost.
If you have trusted Jesus with your eternal salvation, would you thank him right now for his saving love? He came at Christmas, died on Good Friday, and rose on Easter just for you. Would you thank him for those who brought you to him? And would you ask him to use your life and words today to lead someone else to him?
Billy Graham is right: "Heaven is real and hell is real, and eternity is but a breath away." Are you ready?