What do Billy Graham, Ken Dodd and Stephen Hawking have in common? They each reached the height of their chosen occupation; they might each be described as brilliant at what they did. What they each did was quite different, the first an evangelist with an international reputation; the second an entertainer and comedian with a career that spanned generations and the third a brilliant scientist of international repute who persevered even though he was a victim of motor neurone disease for over 40 years. There is however one other shared experience, they all died within three weeks of each other in 2018 aged 99, 90 and 76 respectively. I am writing this on the day that Stephen Hawkins died, so what are we to learn from the experience of these men?
I do not want to make any further personal comment on these men, with one exception towards the end of this letter. This world has produced many brilliant people, but Jesus poses the questions “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) We might have the opportunity to develop our intellectual skills or to use our financial resources so that it might seem we are “self-made people”. We might have the ability to help and encourage people with our humour or different aspects of our personality, but will our popularity prepare us for eternity?
Jesus is clear that each human being has a soul that needs to be first of all revived or resuscitated and then needs to be fed and nourished. It is the one part of us that lives beyond physical death, until the day of Jesus Christ when the bodies of all people will be raised from the dead to face our Maker. The Bible is clear that without a living relationship with God, we are each spiritually dead because “(y)our disobedience and (y)our many sins” (Eph 2:1 NLT), but God has made every believer spiritually alive through faith (Eph 2:5). The implications of these facts are that we can work hard and be focussed; we can help other people in many and varied ways, but in fact do nothing of eternal value for ourselves or others.
Jesus came into this world, understanding the needs of all humanity and was focussed firstly on doing the will of God, and as a result of that, doing all that He could to redeem and restore human beings, so that life here on earth is given an eternal focus and that eternity is prepared for here and now. He did not fail, but in order to benefit from His success we have to acknowledge our limitations and failures, asking Him to forgive us and to prepare us for eternity. That must be done here on earth; it cannot be postponed.
The three men of whom I wrote earlier died at completely different ages. Scripture says
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,2)
There came a time in the lives of each of them when this life ceased, but in reality none of them knew the day of their death beforehand. Jesus addressed this uncertainty directly in Luke 12, where he spoke of a farmer who had been very successful and anticipated a long life, but “God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” This is a question that we all face. What will happen to all that we have gained or achieved in this life? The punch line as far as this story is concerned is verse 21, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.”
It is good and right that we each use the natural and spiritual gifts that God has given each of us, but we are to use them in a daily relationship with God, so that our time, our skills and resources are used to the glory of God and the good of other people.
May God help each of us to live our lives in the presence of God and in preparation for eternity.
Your Finite Friend,
Bernard Lewis Apr. 2018