Brevity of Life

On January 28, 1986, the US Space Shuttle Challenger made its liftoff at 11:38 EST, but unfortunately in seventy-three seconds the ship’s mission and crew were lost. The cause for the Space Shuttle Challenger’s breakup has been linked to numerous malfunctions and failed security checks; o-ring concerns on the rocket boosters, ice build up around the boosters, coldest takeoff in NASA history, and wind shear stronger than any prior flight upon takeoff. It is estimated that nearly 17% of all Americans were watching the live television broadcast of the shuttle’s takeoff. One of the crew members on this fateful day was Christa McAuliffe, who would have become the first teacher in space. The Challenger disaster serves as a reminder of how quickly the events of life can be altered forever.

This past Sunday, January 26, 2020, the sports world was turned upside down with the unexpected and untimely death of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers and is a future Hall of Famer. Kobe Bryant did much to change the landscape of basketball by his approach toward the game, but his reach beyond the court is undeniable. Over the past week, numerous news outlets have carried stories and testimonies from friends, family, fellow athletes, and even those who never met him, but their lives were impacted by his life and leadership on and off the court. The deaths of Bryant, his daughter, and the seven others on board of the helicopter in Calabassas, California, serve as a reminder of the brevity of life.

Death, especially when it is not expected, takes our breath away in shock and unbelief. We want to deny or reject those first reports of someone’s unexpected death, but when it is confirmed our thoughts are scattered and our hearts cry for the person and their family. It does not matter how disconnected one is from the other, death hits every living person the same way – it hurts! Death is the harshest reminder that our lives are not guaranteed tomorrow.

The prophet James dealt with a group who had forgotten this harsh reality, because they had begun to take pride in regarding their lives on earth. James kindly reminded his readers that this life is never guaranteed, when he wrote –

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil (4:13-16).

Our life on this earth is brief and “just a vapor.” This comparison of life as a vapor was not new with James, but had been made by others in the Bible. Job said, “Remember that my life is but breath; My eye will not again see good” (7:7). The psalmist David wrote – “Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (39:5).

This aspect of life and death can be quite depressing for those who are living. Why should I struggle through this illness or the many trials of my life? Why do I need to work if I am just going to die anyway? Our lives are not given any guarantees to its brevity or length as the wise man Solomon wrote – “…for time and chance overtake them all. Moreover, man does not know his time… (Ecclesiastes 9:11b-12a). In all of this darkness and gloom, there is light and hope given through the despair. Death may be the great equalizer of all men, but it is not the end of the Christian’s life and hope.

Our Savior told His disciples – “…for I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2b). This promise made by Jesus continues to give peace to all who put their trust in God. Jesus’ physical death was imminent, but this did not keep Him from fulfilling the Father’s will. It is through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection on the third day, that our own physical deaths no longer holds power over us. As the Hebrew writer wrote – “14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). Death is not the final end of man’s existence, but rather a stepping stone that launches the Christian into eternity with God. Our bodies are laid to rest, but our spirits will return to the Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:7). What a tremendous thought that we can go to be with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and all the saved for all eternity!

When death occurs unexpectedly in or around our lives, may we learn to draw closer to our families and love them more deeply in its aftermath. May we also draw closer to our God and more earnestly and completely love, trust, and obey His Word. At the end, how I lived in preparation for eternity will be my life’s greatest gain or loss. Am I prepared for that end today?