The Great Equalizer

So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.  All share a common destiny—the righteous and wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.  As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.  Ecclesiastes 9:1, 2.

 

After nursing school and a stent in Alaska working in an alcohol center’s detox unit, I ended up as a nurse assistant between the spring and fall quarters at college.  During my tenure there I met a man who, from all accounts, had been one of the most influential and well-to-do men in the area.  I don’t recall his name because, you know, he was a patient and it’s been 30 years or more, but what I do remember is he was dying a slow painful death from prostate cancer.  As a nursing assistant they would assign me a wing or set number of rooms to take care of and I’d be pretty busy keeping up with all the patients.  Even so, there would be lulls in the craziness where I could go talk to my friend/patient for a while.

As I got to know him I found out he was a believer.  This set us up for many cool, thoughtful discussions.  The day before he died he asked me to read Scripture to him.  I chose Psalm 71 since it spoke to old age and death a bit with hope.  I watched as the words washed over him bringing peace in his physical agony.  The next day he died and for the next month or more I chewed on the significance of a life lived well.

In the end it really doesn’t matter who we’ve been or how brilliant our career, life or family connections were, death takes us all.  The great disaster among the greatest disasters of all time levels the playing field to the point of dust.  I mean, we hear this pretty much all our lives without probably taking it in.  Until, of course, someone close to us dies or we face death ourselves, then life takes on a whole new meaning and value.  My friend/patient spent all his money on a cure, then, once the cure failed, the rest of his money went to the health support system to ease his pain while he died.  Everything he worked for came down to spending it on his death in the end.

Solomon calls death’s equalizing effect a great evil.  In a sense it definitely is, on the other hand, I’m kind of glad death sets limits on us.  Think of it:  what if some of the most despotic rulers lived eternally?  What would the world be like if they had been able to not only continue in their power grab but had no end in sight for their rule?  At the same time, many good people who blessed the world with their wisdom, kindness, generosity and good example also died.  Almost everybody agrees that evil people should die but good people?  It seems a shame.

We humans enjoy being self-actualizing beings.  As wacky as it sounds on paper (or in this case a blog entry in cyberspace) even the more righteous among us love self-determination.  Weird isn’t it?  We say we believe in a God who set the limits of the heavens and boundaries around our lives all the while taking the reigns of life’s horse by worry, anxiety and often just pushing our way through the crowds to whatever we call success.  All our accomplishments will be forgotten as likely as not before one generation past us dies out, yet we still fight to make a mark.

Working to be remembered is good, I believe.  The entire law and history in the Bible stories tells of men and women who will be remembered.  David grew humbled and thankful when God told him his line would be remembered for not only his deeds but those of future generations in his line.  While I’m sure most of us in America barely grasp the significance of that experience, we do however get the need to be known, recognized and canonized in history.  A Jew of David’s era found his or her identity in their nationality, customs and family traits.  David’s progeny took their identity and pride of heritage from Israel’s greatest king—him—as a means of value, claim to power and generally their relationship to others in the world at large.

Yet David died, so all we have now are stories. Nothing remains of his possessions and even the stories get garbled or distorted as we project our modern grasp of life onto the past.  His historical value continues to be contemplated in books, articles, documentaries and movies, each of these, in turn, adding myth to the legend.

Death, the equalizer, leaves us with only one perfect memory, God’s.  I think this is why Jesus taught so fiercely about seeking God’s will, opinion and perspective over other people’s viewpoints.  If I’m concerned with God’s view of me over all the others, my decisions will reflect it; how I live will reflect it.  Jesus came to bring reconciliation between God and mankind, and then to have that peace overflow to humanity.  The world is not a peaceful place as of this writing, to my knowledge.  The sheer hate demonstrated by people of different faiths, ethnicities and tribes is still very evident and clear.  I don’t think I will see peace in the world in my lifetime unless Jesus comes back to take over.

But, no matter.  The truth of death’s great leveling agent cannot be denied.  If we believe in God, a god or just mankind as an accident of evolution, we are all in the same situation:  we will all die.

So, what do we do with this fact?

Frankly, not much besides use it to inspire us to live.  What we do between birth and death, however, can make the difference for those who come after us as well as our own lives.  Here’s the deal breaker for me:  Life isn’t about birth or death, it’s about what we do with ourselves while we breathe.  What happens between the lines is often more important than the lines themselves, you know what I mean?

When Solomon declares there is nothing more that a person can do but to eat, drink and enjoy one’s life while we got it, I think he establishes another pure fact of God’s design.  I know, I know, Evangelical Christianity constantly harps on the verses which declare we must glorify God, but that’s just it—everything I am and do can be a part of that process—especially my happiness.

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