Due to the juxtaposition of certain events, I have recently been contemplating life, death, and the eternities.
My only nephew, Ethan, successfully hit the 18 month mark. Ethan’s mother, my sister Erin, anounced that she was again expecting. My maternal grandmother died unexpectedly. My brother Hugh returned from a mission. Missions have always seemed like microcosms to me. A missionary is “born,” learns and grows, has specific purposes to fulfill, and then (much like Grandma) “dies” and joyfully returns home.
With these events on my mind, I have asked myself several questions. Is this life all there is? How am I handling my “probation” ? What am I doing with my time? Am I fulfilling God’s purposes for me? (The Oracle says, “we’re all here to do, what we’re all here to do.”) When I am “released” will I look back on my life feeling like a servant who has been true and faithful? Or as someone who simply passed the time? (As my first mission president would say, “That man’s not a missionary, he’s a tourist!”)
Hugh Nibley would say my thinking has become eschatological, though only temporarily. See his parable here.
I derive some comfort from the imagery of the Hebrew Bible. In the ANE and Israel, death, the grave, and hell [sheol which refers to the abode of departed spirits, but may also mean “place of questioning,” or judgement] were frequently personified. Jacob three times refers to “that awful monster, death and hell [presumably sheol] and the devil” (2 Nephi 9:10, 19, 26). Death swallowed people alive, dragging them down to sheol (Proverbs 1:12). Death’s appetite could not be satiated (Pro. 27:20, Habbakuk 2:5). “Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure; the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude go down, her throng and all who exult in her.” (Isaiah 5:14, NRSV)
Grim, isn’t it?
Yet, in one of my favorite passages, Isaiah reverses the imagery. “[The LORD] will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:8-9)
Death, who swallows us alive, shall himself be swallowed up. In what I read as a millenial passage, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Until these things pass away, what am I doing with my time?