Allan Meyer died last week. Although he was in his 80’s it was unexpected. He was a friend to my wife and her family for over fifty years as well as a consistent source of encouragement to me. He was a natural encourager. He seemed to seek us out every Sunday, as if had a special radar he used to seek us out so he could greet us with a smile, a kind word and a silly joke. He was a lover of people who frequently visited friends and church members who were hospitalized. He was a good man. Today is his memorial service. I expect it to be a long one. There is a lot to say about Allan and a lot of people who will want to say it.
It seems that this is how it works, that the true value of a life comes into clearer focus when it ends. Death is the time when our true worth and accomplishments are understood. Death is the great commonality, an event shared by all regardless of culture, ethnicity, social status or religious faith. It can be delayed but it can never be avoided. Everyone dies. When they do, people reflect on who they were and what they did.
Death also brings with it a question. What comes next? The answer to this question defines all human existence and brings the standard by which all lives are measured. Answers vary, yet all of the possible answers have profound ramifications for how people think and live.
The secular answer to the question of what comes next is simple. Nothing comes next. The final heartbeat and last breath represent the moment when the person completely and totally ceases to be. Nothing remains of their personality, their emotions, feelings or memories. They are just gone. Death is the absolute end.
People of faith answer the death question differently. For them life follows life. The body ceases to function but the essence of the person, the personality and thoughts, the soul and spirit, continue on.
Believing that something comes next changes everything. If there is a next life, particularly if it is an enduring life, then earthly actions must be measured not solely on their immediate impact but according to their impact on the life to come. Earthly wealth and accomplishments decrease in importance. Faith assumes the preeminent position and character qualities such as love and faithfulness and a person’s relationship with the Divine outweigh those things which can be seen by the eye.
While worldly achievements are in large measure dependent on when, where and to whom a person is born the things that matter for eternity are available to all. Faith, hope and love are gifts that can be received and given by the poorest of the poor.
A person’s true answer to the what “what next” question can be determined from a distance. Those who pursue pleasure and happiness with vigor, who work hard build a name or legacy for themselves, and strive for earthly success are living as if this life is all there is, as if they embrace the secular view. Further evidence of a temporal mindset is seen in rejection of moral absolutes.
People who hold onto earthly goods more loosely, who are more willing to forego wealth and security in this life and more willing to give their lives for a cause are living as if there is an eternity.
What we believe about death defines our entire existence.
- From what I observed, Allan was a man who believed in eternity. It is why he lived as he did and loved as he did. I look forward to seeing him again.
Prayers for Allan's family will be appreciated. He is at peace, it is those who remain who are suffering.