George Swinnock

A friend of mine in college had a drawing of a skull propped up on her dresser next to her mirror to remind her not to be vain. If that sounds morbid, it’s because it is.

Yet the Bible supports such morbidity. As the writer of Ecclesiastes records, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher. Vanity of Vanities! All is vanity.” (1:2).

Though mostly lost in American culture, there is a long history of Christians who have dwelled on death and it’s meaning and who have actively prepared for it. Jonathan Edwards, of course, was famous for his 18th-century sermon where he encouraged his congregation to think about life after death, by likening humans to spiders, dangling over hell and our graves, the web’s string ready to snap at any second.

And George Swinnock, a Puritan, wrote in “The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith,” “Those who lie in beds of ivory must lie down in beds of earth. Some letters are made with large flourishes, but they are still ink like all the others. … Your life may be preserved for a while, tossed from hazard to hazard, like a ball by the tennis rackets, yet it will eventually fall to the earth.”

And again, Ecclesiastes: “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. … All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”

Are we prepared to die? Who will save us from this inevitability? Perhaps, more importantly, where is our hope? If you haven’t thought about your own death, and how to march confidently toward it, I recommend reading Swinnock’s book, which has challenged me this past week.

One of the most important reasons to spend some time meditating upon death is because it helps us be grateful for the life that we are offered in Christ. He faced and defeated the spectre of death, so that if we believe in him, death to us will only be a passing into eternal life in joy at Christ’s feet. It will be something we need to prepare for, but not something that need bring us fear. Where is your hope?