It is strange the things that pop into one’s mind. For me, not long ago, it was a childhood prayer. It’s not one that I prayed a lot as a kid but I have for some reason memorized it. I’m sure most of you are familiar with it too.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Dying has for many today, like sex in the 19th century, become the great unmentionable.
Death is not something we talk much about and certainly not with children. But this classic children’s prayer, from the 18th century New England Primer, the most successful educational textbook published in 18th century America, was part of every child’s reading instruction.
I was thinking about this prayer because I was thinking about death, my death and the imminent death of people I love.
I can understand why we avoid the topic of death, but then I can’t.
Last time I checked, the statistics suggested that the current death rate is 100 per cent.
In a recent book on heaven, the author, Randy Alcorn points out that worldwide three people die every second, 180 every minute, 11,000 every hour. That means that by the time you have read this article some 2,700 people have died: the equivalent to one-quarter of the population of Parksville.
But, while death is certain, it is also uncertain. It will certainly come, but the time and moment of its coming is rarely known to anyone before it happens. In almost every case, no matter when it arrives, it is always a “thief.” This got me thinking.
Death often catches us by surprise.
It arrives at our doorstep when we least expect it.
How often have you heard the news of someone’s death and thought: “I can’t believe it!”
Just over a month ago the sports world was talking about the death of a Texas Ranger fan, Shannon Stone, a 39 year-old firefighter, who died after falling from the outfield stands while reaching for a ball thrown by Texas Rangers All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton. That day had been like some many others. It started out normal. It included an outing with his son to a baseball game. He never came home.
Who would have expected that?
We all have similar stories.
Not only is death often sudden and unexpected, it is usual for people to put the thought of death far from their mind.
We tend to think of ourselves as invincible. This feeling of invincibility might come from our youthfulness, from the state of our health, from the state of our bank account, from the history of our family, or even from the state of our mind. Doesn’t much matter why we avoid the topic though, the truth is, immortality is something that most put far from their mind. It is not a topic of regular conversation.
If the current death rate is 100 per cent, then we ought to prepare for death, not merely by putting our affairs in order, but by preparing for life beyond the grave.
This is nothing new.
From the dawn of history mankind has attempted to prepare for life beyond the grave.
For example the Egyptians went to elaborate lengths to ensure that the dead would have safe passage into the next world.
We have the Tibetan Book of the Dead which describes transitions to the other world. And many other cultures throughout man’s history have gone to great lengths to prepare for the next life.
Where does this urge come from?
It comes from God who created mankind. For this God has placed eternity into man’s heart. A consideration of life after death is part of what it means to be human.
So we must face it honestly.
We can’t escape it. It is inevitable.
It was Voltaire who said: “my fortune for six more months.”
And Mary Queen of Scots who said, “my kingdom for one more minute.”
Death is an enemy and humanity tries to defeat this great enemy.
We pour money into research, we make use of medicine and yet the inescapable truth is “it is appointed unto men once to die … and still it wins.
Our culture views of life after death are changing. How would you fill in the blanks?
Now I lay be down to sleep
I ______ my soul to _______
If should die before I wake
I _______ my soul to ____________.