(Thanks to Kevin, as always, for the inspiration!)

This week at church saw the start of a new message series entitled “Resonate.” The series seeks to answer how we are to live our lives in such a way as to leave a lasting impact on the world in which we live.

Quite appropriately, Kevin kicked off the series by calling attention to the 30,000-pound elephant in the room. This elephant, of course, is the stark realization that all of us, without exception, have the prospect of death looming powerfully and ominously on the horizons of our lives. Try as we might, we cannot escape or otherwise elude this fate; we are mortal, and our days are numbered. In the face of this reality, the psalmist’s words are still poignant thousands of years later:

“Please, LORD, show me my future. Will I soon be gone? You made my life short, so brief that the time means nothing to you. Human life is but a breath, and it disappears like a shadow. Our struggles are senseless; we store up more and more, without ever knowing who will get it all.” (Psalm 39:4-6 CEV).

I found today’s conversation particularly meaningful for several reasons. First, as part of my church’s collective small group study, we’ve been going through Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love.” In the second chapter of this book (appropriately entitled “You might not make it through this chapter”), Chan tackles this very issue of mortality. After briefly walking through the psychology of why we, as humans, pay so little attention to our own mortality, Chan concludes that because our lives our not our own, AND because they are so fleeting, our only appropriate response must be to abandon our lives to the kingdom of God, to be consumed in and by the worship of the Creator.

Kevin reached a similar conclusion in today’s message—if our lives are to truly “resonate”, to reach beyond the brief stain that we leave on the history of the universe, we must live our lives “in the moment.” We must leave aside constantly waiting for or banking on the “when…then” that we believe will provide the fulfillment and purpose we are seeking. Rather, we should embrace the fleeting moments that we have right now, turning our intentions for the future into definite actions in the present. This, at the end of the day, is how we live meaningful, resonating lives within the kingdom of God.

The second reason this message was so impacting to me is simply that I’ve recently been thinking about mortality A LOT. I’m now just less than a year away from 30 (I know, I know…), and for all I’ve accomplished, I’m still guilty of the “when…then” attitude that Kevin spoke about today. I continue to look into the uncertain future, holding out hope that some glorious event or series of circumstances will usher in the dawn of the life that I’ve not yet attained. However, as time slips away, as my daughter grows up so quickly in front of me, as I feel the incessant tug of insatiable entropy more poignantly day by day…I come to realize that all the things to which I give so much time and energy may not be worth it in the end. Like it or not, I will be dead and gone in the blink of an eye—so what will I leave to show for it?

A few weeks ago, I composed a song out of the depths of these thoughts. It’s thoroughly depressing (surprise, surprise!), but I think it encapsulates the crisis of mortality:

Listen to You, Me and the Carbon

You, Me and the Carbon

It comes without a sound…
Before you speak, you’re in the ground

Don’t look so caught off guard
This fate was knocking at windows and doors
It’s time you answered them

So steel your heart, and brace yourself like a man

We all go back to stars
That long have ceased to shine
The carbon that we are
Is borrowed, bartered
Never yours and mine

You ask then what’s the use
Is this our lot, exist then dissolve?

You are exactly right
The life you hold is fading away
Can you keep it even one more day?

So steel your heart, and brace yourself like a man

We all go back to stars
That long have ceased to shine
The carbon that we are
Is borrowed, bartered
Never yours…

And I will think of you the moment that you’re gone
But memories cannot attach to what you leave behind
And now you’re gone
Dust to dust, the carbon song

We all go back to stars
That long have ceased to shine
The carbon that we are
Is borrowed, bartered, always stolen
All our striving, leaves us broken
All we cling to…never yours and mine

You try to laugh it off
Surely you can make your escape

But the only truth inside a million lies
One day, very soon, you too will die
Listen to You, Me and the Carbon

So where does this leave us? In the 14 billion-odd years of this universe, the handful of years that we spend hurtling around the sun does not even register. How much more seemingly insignificant in the scope of the infinity of eternity is the “vapor” of our lives? At times, we all feel like crying out, as the psalmist did, “What are humans, O God, that you are have any awareness whatsoever of us?” How can the God of eternity and infinity possibly be bothered with the mere flicker of our dirty, broken lives?

But feelings of insignificance aside, the real crisis of mortality is NOT necessarily that our lives are so short and fragile. Rather, what is truly frightening is how we all live as if they are not. We dream, scheme, and plan, all in the hope of somehow making it “somewhere” in life. Even though we intellectually acknowledge that death is inevitable, we live contradictory, disingenuous lives anyway. We move through space and time as if we are invincible. And though we know, intuitively, that we most certainly are not, we still naively hold onto the hope that we will somehow find a loop-hole, a magic escape from our return to the star dust from which we were formed.

But the dark, potentially terrifying truth is that there is no loop hole, no escape. In the midst of a million lies and fairy tales, the one sure thing is that one day, very soon, we all will die. To be human IS to die, and no amount of wishful thinking, striving, or accomplishment can change this in anyway whatsoever.

What, then, is our response? One dangerous response is despair, and it’s an easy one. Too many of us cloak our minds in the assurances of theology and religion, but these in and of themselves are only fleeting pacifications at best. The true crises of life and mortality have an inexplicable way of stripping away our self-deceptions, leaving us only with that which has become essential to our character and being. If faith in life beyond our decaying handful of carbon is built merely on happy platitudes, we’ll find nothing in death but despair.

There is another response, however. As Kevin spoke about today, we can choose to live resonating lives. We can transcend the small-minded and self-focused categories of “normal” life and abandon ourselves to the work of the kingdom of God. We can go all in, trusting that though are lives are brief and seemingly without purpose in the inestimable scheme of universal history, nevertheless we will make our impact because our lives have done the will of God. We can walk confidently into the uncertain and terrifying nothingness of death, trusting that though it seems impossible and ridiculous, we can yet share in the newness of divine life through God’s power, mercy, and grace in Christ.