Their spirits belong to God
Every time I fly I have a ritual with regards to take off and landing. Supposedly, the most dangerous times for air flight are the take off and landings. So, I routinely find myself praying as the plane is about to turn to align on the runway and as I can feel it power up to start rolling into the take off. I also pray on the approach and landing.
Who could imagine that at cruising altitude, somewhere in the midst of one's journey, a missile would come screaming up from the ground and blow the plane apart in seconds? Experts have imagined that the rapid decompression at that high altitude would render the occupants of the plane instantly unconscious. One can only hope. Can you imagine being tossed suddenly out into mid-air at 34,000 feet? It's minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit at that altitude. I've been watching the news coverage of the shoot down of that plane, including the way the wreckage and the bodies have been neglected. People have repeatedly expressed their anger that the dead have not been treated with more respect. I have found that odd. If there were respect to be had at all, why were they blown out of the sky to begin with? It's disgusting that their bodies were lying for days in the hot sun, but to be honest, those people were not feeling anything at that point.
If I'm dead, I am dead. I don't feel my body rotting in the heat. That makes me think about dying by other means and the dying itself that sets me free from whatever my body has to go through here while I'm still alive. When I die, this life is going to be over.
My mother died of lung cancer. I can remember sitting with her while she had plastic tubes running into her nose to feed her more oxygen. She struggled to breathe, because she had increasing fluid on her lungs. I was not with her when she died, but I know that she doesn't struggle for her breath anymore.
Some people don't believe there is an after life. They don't believe in God. They think that when you die, all of life, including the consciousness that attends everything we experience, simply ceases. We did not feel or think anything before we were born, before we came into existence, and they believe that when we die, we simply revert to that state of nothingness. We simply are not anymore. So, accordingly, there is no more suffering, no hell, no heaven — nothing. That is what John Lennon wrote about in his song, Imagine. I have contemplated that. I've been with the dead bodies of people I have known when they were alive. The person is not there. The body is lifeless, and the person, not just that animation of the body, but the person, is not there. The person, to me, is a thing just as much as the body. The person, which is immaterial and of which the body supplies a material part, is gone. The person who thinks, feels, wants, has values, makes decisions, and takes up interpersonal space leaves a void. Where did they go? I cannot conceive that such a being simply goes poof and ceases to exist.
The Bible says that God has put eternity in our hearts. I think that is true. We live as if we will never die, and we make plans for tomorrow which also seems like it will simply wash into an endless stream of tomorrows. We do that thinking we will never find ourselves in mid-air, trying to breath at minus 50 degrees.
I'll bet nobody on that plane was thinking, “What if this plane blows up right now?” They might have been concerned at take off, but my bet is they were trying to adjust themselves in the tight seat or watch a movie. They might have been thinking of what they were going to do when they landed. Some of them were on vacation and some were going to participate in an AIDS conference. Really, the whole plane was filled with people living their lives, going about the business of being alive and pursuing multiple interests. In the seconds before they suddenly died, my bet is that nobody imagined what was about to take place. It was as if they were going to live forever. Where are they now? They are not in body bags somewhere in Ukraine. Those people have been torn apart at a basic level of their being. That's what death does to a person. As persons, their immaterial parts have been ripped apart from their material parts, but what then? The material aspect of the person has begun to rot, to return to the earth from which it came (as the Bible puts it). Their spirits belong to God. They return to the One who gave them life to begin with, and then the question is, “Did they ever really know God in the world while they had earthly life?” So, will they know God when they die? It seems to me that that might be an important consideration.
If there is a real God, it seems like a very important consideration that a person might devote a fair amount of attention and energy towards getting to know that God before he or she dies. Whether one dies suddenly, blown from the sky or smashed against a motor vehicle here on earth, or whether a person simply “passes” quietly during some night, this thing that takes place for every person is going to happen.
I read that James Garner died. He was the original Maverick on television, the Rockford of the Rockford Files. I grew up watching him. I liked him. He was 86. Twenty years ahead of me. I'm beginning to realise that my turn at the counter where death is being served is coming up. I don't know when I'll be served. Maybe I've got 20 more years. Maybe it will be today. Nobody really knows when, but we all know our time will come.
The way I look at it, though, I've got right now. And God says, “Right now, if you hear my voice, don't harden your hearts …”
I want to live in each moment increasing in my knowledge of God. I want to live with a soft heart towards God, an ear that can hear Him when He speaks, and the willingness to follow. I may have eternity in my heart, but I've got finality in my bones.