Sometimes I think back to the days when I was convinced there was no God. I would lie awake at night and think about the ultimate hopelessness of life. I believed that when we die, that’s it. Lights out. There’s nothing more.
That’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it? About one out of four Americans thinks that death is the end of their human existence, and that idea breeds hopelessness—a hopelessness so dark that many can’t face it, so they revert to false forms of hope. They engage in wishful thinking: “Maybe when I die, I’ll be reincarnated or something.” Or they leap into blind optimism: “I just won’t think about it. By the time I get around to dying, they’ll have a cure for whatever I’ve got.” Others pursue hopeful dreams by saying, “I’ll watch my carbs, run the treadmill, cut my weight, and lengthen my lifespan.”
Those defense mechanisms may make people feel better, but they don’t change the reality that death still plays a perfect game: one out of one ends up dead. And death has an annoying habit of being completely unpredictable.
I was talking about the inevitability of death with a computer salesman named Jeff Miller, who attended our church. He told me about a fateful flight he had taken from Denver to Chicago. About forty minutes before they were to land at O’Hare International Airport, there was a muffled explosion, and the plane swung to the side so violently that the book Jeff was reading flew out of his hands. As it turned out, the engine in the tail had exploded, and the plane’s steering was severely crippled.
As the plane made the approach for an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa, it became clear that the situation was desperate. Jeff told me that some of the people around him began trembling and crying from fear. Others put on an air of optimism and kept telling themselves there was nothing to worry about. But Jeff, who had been a Christian for several years, spent the time praying a simple prayer that was anchored in hope.
He said, “Thank you, Lord, that you’re mine and I’m yours. God, I want to live, but I know if I don’t, I’ll be with you, and you’ll care for my family.” Jeff had a confident expectation that God would fulfill his promises to him.
You may have seen the video of that plane when it scraped awkwardly onto the runway, broke apart, cartwheeled, and exploded into orange flames. Jeff braced himself for a violent death, but it never came. His piece of the fuselage tumbled into a cornfield, where it came to a stop, upside down. Jeff hung there, suspended in his seat, with not a mark on him.
I asked Jeff, “What was it like when everyone knew the plane was going down? I mean, people don’t usually survive airplane crashes. Was there a feeling of being in a hopeless situation?”
He said, “Lee, I’ll tell you the truth. It was scary, but at the same time I felt like I was full of hope. I mean, there was hope if I lived, and there was the hope that if I died, I’d be with Christ. It’s like it says in Psalm 118:6: ‘What can anybody do to you if your hope is in the Lord?’”
How we face death tells us a lot about how we’ll face life. The Bible says that because followers of Christ have the hope of eternity, they can live their lives with boldness and strength.
When you have the confident expectation that God will live up to his promises, it changes the way you think about death. I know it has for me.
My prayer is that, moving ahead, you’ll base your hope not on wishful thinking or any of the other counterfeit versions, but on the One who has the power to truly change your life and assure your eternity.
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