You Can Smile At Death

Blog 4.18.2022

Can you Smile at Death?

There was a man that went to our church in Albuquerque. Although he and his wife were advanced in years (their late 80s), he always wanted his spouse to pass before him. His reasoning was that he was the caregiver, and she needed him, so if he passed away before her, who would take care of her? However, anyone who knew him knew that his wife was his whole world, and if she passed away, he would be an emotional wreck. Two weeks ago, he made the difficult decision to place his wife in in-home hospice care, knowing that the end was near for her. She was barely consuming anything to sustain her life, which indicates that their time on earth has come. Meanwhile, he was in relatively good health; although no one is a picture of health at their age of life, he was better than most. Yet, with all of these plans and medical provisions, He passed away yesterday morning before his wife. 

I share this story to illustrate a well-recognized truth about life, that the best-laid plans rarely work out the way that we would like. We can apply logic, well-wishes, and moral reasoning to our intentions and aspirations; however, that does not mean things will go the way we want them to. And frankly, the events that happen at the end of our time on earth are the most tentative and uncertain plans anyone could ever make. 

Two quotes always spring to mind when I think of my own mortality, and surprisingly they come from stoic philosopher and Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 A.D.).  

“Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.”

― Marcus Aurelius

“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”

― Marcus Aurelius

There are hidden pieces of truth in both of these statements, especially concerning how we approach both life and death. From a purely secular mindset, death is always imminent and something to be present in our minds. This also holds weight from a Biblical standpoint as James writes his book of truth and Christ-centered insights. 

James 4:13-17 

 “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” 

No day is guaranteed, and to imagine that even tomorrow is promised to us is reckless. All that anyone of us has is what we are currently experiencing. That is a hard reality to digest, but it is reality nonetheless. I would like to imagine that I have 60 more years of life or that I will experience significant milestones for my children, like graduations, marriages, grandchildren, etc., but that is not guaranteed. And there is nothing I can do to secure it. So what matters is what I am doing with my time each day. 

However, for the Christian, we have the promises of God to give us hope. This allows us to truly “smile at death.”

1 John 2:25 – “And this is what he promised us–eternal life.”

Titus 1:2 – “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time”

1 John 5:11-13 – “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Eternal life is the catalyst for truly living. Without the promise of eternal life, you are constantly hedging your life to protect it from calamities or dangers. Sometimes people even shield themselves from everyday activities because of the fear of possibly dying. For the Christ-follower, we welcome the translation from one life to the next; we anticipate the promises of God and fully enjoy and thrive in our everyday lives. 

I think of all the intentions people have as they approach the end of their lives. We would like things to go just the way we plan. We attempt to control even the most restricted and unpredictable portions of our existence, and if we focus on it too much, it would be maddening. Thankfully God has taken that burden away from us. Instead, God simply gives us the permission and ability to live good lives and not worry about the intricacies of dying. Leaving the most important and pertinent matter being, as John puts it, “Whoever has the Son has life.” And if you have the Son, you can definitely smile whenever death finally approaches.