What kinds of action(s) would you engage in during your final days?
When I first thought about this question, two people in particular came to mind. These are guys who told us what they'd do. And they're separated by almost 5 centuries of time, so their responses to the question are very intriguing to me.
The first is Tim McGraw, the country music singer. He released a song in 2004 called "Live Like You Were Dying." In the song, a man finds out that his days on earth are fading. So what does he do? He goes skydiving, mountain climbing, and bull riding, among other things.
The second is Martin Luther, the 16th century monk-turned-reformer. In 1517, he posted a public document with 95 points of contention with the Catholic Church. Later in his life, he was posed with the question of what he would do if he knew it was his last day. His answer? He said he'd plant a tree.
Two men, several centuries of time, and two very different opinions about what makes life worth living.
For Tim McGraw, to "live like you were dying" means throwing caution to the wind and seeking the thrills you neglected while you were concerned with getting through your day-to-day life.
For Martin Luther, to "live like you were dying" meant patiently continuing in faith that God would carry on his plan to redeem all of creation.
For Tim McGraw, this life is all there is - it's now or never.
For Martin Luther, there is more than this life - it's now and forever.
The biblical narrative can help us with our thinking about this question. The drama that is unveiled in the Bible can be reasonably divided into 5 acts:
1) Creation, 2) Israel, 3) Jesus, 4) Church, and 5) Eschaton.
According to N.T. Wright, in this five-act scheme, "The church would live under the 'authority' of the extant story, being required to offer something between an improvisation and an actual performance of the final act" (article: "How Can the Bible be Authoritative"). In other words, living today under the authority of Scripture requires both consistency with what has already transpired and innovation for what lies ahead.
I suggest that the world offers no such past or future, so people who choose to live outside the biblical drama are forced to squeeze all experiences, achievements, accolades, pleasures, and rewards into a one-act drama that only includes the present time. That's why thrill-seeking is what some people associate with "living like you were dying."
But Christians are convinced there is more to come, and therefore faithfulness (not excitement or succes) is their aim. "[T]he shape of the five-act play reminds the church that it does not live in particularly significant times. The most important things have already happened. The Messiah has come, has been put to death, has been raised; and the Spirit has come" (Samuel Wells, Improvisation, 57).
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