Death: The Sixth Juncture
After so much hustle and bustle, so many frustrations and disappointments, after so many joys and sorrows and ups and downs, after so many unforgettable years, after watching the seasons turn time and again, one passes the important milestones in life without notice, and all in a flash one finds oneself in one’s waning years. The marks of time are stamped all over one’s body: One can no longer stand erect, a head of dark hair turns white, bright, lucid eyes grow dim and cloud over, and smooth, supple skin becomes wrinkled and spotted. One’s hearing weakens, one’s teeth loosen and fall out, one’s reactions become delayed, one’s movements slow…. At this point, one has completely bid farewell to the passionate years of one’s youth and entered the twilight of one’s life: old age. Next, one will face death, the last juncture in a human life.
1. Only the Creator holds the power of life and death over man
If one’s birth was destined by one’s previous life, then one’s death marks the end of that destiny. If one’s birth is the beginning of one’s mission in this life, then one’s death marks the end of that mission. Since the Creator has determined a fixed set of circumstances for a person’s birth, it goes without saying that He has also arranged a fixed set of circumstances for one’s death. In other words, no one is born by chance, no one’s death is unexpected, and both birth and death are necessarily connected with one’s previous and present lives. The circumstances of one’s birth and death are both predetermined by the Creator; this is a person’s destiny, a person’s fate. Just as much can be said about one’s birth, every person’s death will occur under a different set of special circumstances, hence people’s varying lifespans and the different manners and times of their deaths. Some people are strong and hale and yet die early; others are weak and sickly yet live to an old age, and pass away peacefully. Some perish of unnatural causes, others of natural ones. Some end their lives far from home, others shut their eyes with their loved ones by their side. Some people die in midair, others beneath the earth. Some sink beneath the water, others are lost in disasters. Some die in the morning, others at night. … Everyone wants an illustrious birth, a brilliant life, and a glorious death, but no one can overstep their own destiny, no one can escape the Creator’s sovereignty. This is human fate. Man can make all kinds of plans for his future, but no one can plan the manner and time of their birth and of their departure from the world. Though people do their best to avoid and resist the coming of death, yet still, unbeknownst to them, death silently draws near. No one knows when they will perish or how they will do so, much less where it will happen. Obviously, it is not humanity that holds the power of life and death, not some being in the natural world, but the Creator, whose authority is unique. Mankind’s life and death are not the product of some law of the natural world, but a consequence of the sovereignty of the Creator’s authority.
2. One who does not know the Creator’s sovereignty will be dogged by the fear of death
When one enters old age, the challenge one faces is not providing for a family or establishing one’s grand ambitions in life, but how to bid farewell to one’s life, how to meet the end of one’s life, how to put the period at the end of one’s own existence. Though on the surface it seems that people pay little attention to death, no one can avoid exploring the subject, for no one knows whether another world lies on the far side of death, a world that humans cannot perceive or feel, one they know nothing about. This makes people afraid to face death head-on, afraid to confront it as they ought, and instead they do their best to avoid the subject. And so it fills every person with dread about death, and adds a veil of mystery to this inevitable fact of life, casts a persistent shadow over every person’s heart.
When one feels one’s body deteriorating, when one senses that one is drawing nearer to death, one feels a vague dread, an inexpressible fear. Fear of death makes one feel ever more lonely and helpless, and at this point one asks oneself: Where did I come from? Where am I going? Is this how I am going to die, with my life having breezed past me? Is this the period that marks the end of my life? What, in the end, is the meaning of life? What is life worth, after all? Is it about fame and fortune? Is it about raising a family? … Regardless of whether one has thought about these specific questions, regardless of how deeply one fears death, in the depths of every person’s heart there is always a desire to probe the mysteries, a feeling of incomprehension about life, and mixed in with these, sentimentality about the world, a reluctance to leave. Perhaps no one can clearly articulate what it is that man fears, what it is that man wants to probe into, what it is that he is sentimental about and what he is reluctant to leave behind. …
Because they fear death, people worry far too much; because they fear death, there is so much that they cannot let go of. When they are about to die, some people fret about this or that; they worry about their children, their loved ones, their wealth, as if by worrying they can erase the suffering and dread that death brings on, as if by maintaining a kind of intimacy with the living they can escape the helplessness and loneliness that accompany death. In the depths of the human heart there lies an inchoate fear, a fear of being parted from one’s loved ones, of never again laying eyes upon the blue sky, of never again looking upon the material world. A lonely soul, used to the company of its loved ones, is reluctant to release its grip and depart, all alone, for an unknown, unfamiliar world.
3. A life spent seeking fame and fortune will leave one at a loss in the face of death
Because of the Creator’s sovereignty and predestination, a lonely soul that started out with nothing to its name gains parents and a family, the chance to become a member of the human race, the chance to experience human life and see the world; and it also gains the chance to experience the Creator’s sovereignty, to know the marvelousness of the creation by the Creator, and most of all, to know and become subject to the Creator’s authority. But most people do not really seize this rare and fleeting opportunity. One exhausts a lifetime’s worth of energy fighting against fate, spends all of one’s time bustling about trying to feed one’s family and shuttling back and forth between wealth and status. The things that people treasure are family, money, and fame; they view these as the most valuable things in life. All people complain about their fates, yet still they push to the back of their minds the questions that it is most imperative to examine and understand: why man is alive, how man should live, what the value and meaning of life is. All of their lives, however many years that may be, they just rush about seeking fame and fortune, until their youth has fled, until they become gray and wrinkled; until they see that fame and fortune cannot stop one’s slide toward senility, that money cannot fill the emptiness of the heart; until they understand that no one is exempt from the law of birth, aging, sickness, and death, that no one can escape what fate has in store. Only when they are forced to confront life’s final juncture do they truly grasp that even if one owns millions in property, even if one is privileged and of high rank, no one can escape death, every person will return to his or her original position: a solitary soul, with nothing to its name. When one has parents, one believes that one’s parents are everything; when one has property, one thinks that money is one’s mainstay, that it is one’s asset in life; when people have status, they cling tightly to it and would risk their lives for its sake. Only when people are about to let go of this world do they realize that the things they spent their lives pursuing are nothing but fleeting clouds, none of which they can hold onto, none of which they can take with them, none of which can exempt them from death, none of which can provide company or consolation to a lonely soul on its way back; and least of all, none of which can give a person salvation, allow them to transcend death. Fame and fortune one gains in the material world give one temporary satisfaction, passing pleasure, a false sense of ease, and make one lose one’s way. And so people, as they thrash about in the vast sea of humanity, craving peace, comfort, and tranquility of heart, are subsumed again and again beneath the waves. When people have yet to figure out the questions that it is most crucial to understand—where they come from, why they are alive, where they are going, and so forth—they are seduced by fame and fortune, misled, controlled by them, irrevocably lost. Time flies; years pass in an eyeblink; before one realizes it, one has bid farewell to the best years of one’s life. When one is soon to depart from the world, one arrives at the gradual realization that everything in the world is drifting away, that one can no longer hold onto the things one possessed; then one truly feels that one still owns nothing at all, like a wailing infant that has just emerged into the world. At this point, one is compelled to ponder what one has done in life, what being alive is worth, what it means, why one came into the world; and at this point, one increasingly wants to know whether there really is an afterlife, whether Heaven really exists, whether there really is retribution…. The nearer one comes to death, the more one wants to understand what life is really about; the nearer one comes to death, the more one’s heart seems empty; the nearer one comes to death, the more helpless one feels; and so one’s fear of death grows greater by the day. There are two reasons why people behave this way as they approach death: First, they are about to lose the fame and wealth upon which their lives have depended, are about to leave behind everything visible in the world; and second, they are about to confront, all alone, an unfamiliar world, a mysterious, unknown realm where they are afraid to set foot, where they have no loved ones and no means of support. For these two reasons, everyone who faces death feels uneasy, experiences a panic and a sense of helplessness that they have never known before. Only when people actually reach this point do they realize that the first thing one must understand, when one sets foot on this earth, is where human beings come from, why people are alive, who dictates human fate, who provides for and has sovereignty over human existence. These are the true assets in life, the essential basis for human survival, not learning how to provide for one’s family or how to achieve fame and wealth, not learning how to stand out from the crowd or how to live a more affluent life, much less learning how to excel and to compete successfully against others. Though the various survival skills that people spend their lives mastering can offer an abundance of material comforts, they never bring one’s heart true peace and consolation, but instead make people constantly lose their direction, have difficulty controlling themselves, miss every opportunity to learn the meaning of life; and they create an undercurrent of trouble about how to properly face death. In this way, people’s lives are ruined. The Creator treats everyone fairly, giving everyone a lifetime’s worth of opportunities to experience and know His sovereignty, yet it is only when death draws near, when the specter of death hangs over one, that one begins to see the light—and then it is too late.
People spend their lives chasing after money and fame; they clutch at these straws, thinking they are their only means of support, as if by having them they could keep on living, could exempt themselves from death. But only when they are close to dying do they realize how distant these things are from them, how weak they are in the face of death, how easily they shatter, how lonely and helpless they are, with nowhere to turn. They realize that life cannot be bought with money or fame, that no matter how wealthy a person is, no matter how lofty his or her position is, all people are equally poor and inconsequential in the face of death. They realize that money cannot buy life, that fame cannot erase death, that neither money nor fame can lengthen a person’s life by a single minute, a single second. The more people feel this way, the more they yearn to keep on living; the more people feel this way, the more they dread the approach of death. Only at this point do they truly realize that their lives do not belong to them, are not theirs to control, and that one has no say over whether one lives or dies, that all of this lies outside of one’s control.
4. Come under the Creator’s dominion and face death calmly
At the moment when a person is born, one lonely soul begins its experience of life on earth, its experience of the Creator’s authority which the Creator has arranged for it. Needless to say, for the person, the soul, this is an excellent opportunity to gain knowledge of the Creator’s sovereignty, to come to know His authority and to experience it personally. People live their lives under the laws of fate laid out for them by the Creator, and for any rational person with a conscience, coming to terms with the Creator’s sovereignty and recognizing His authority over the course of their several decades on earth is not a difficult thing to do. Therefore it should be very easy for every person to recognize, through his or her own life experiences over the several decades, that all human fates are predestined, and to grasp or to sum up what it means to be alive. At the same time that one embraces these life lessons, one will gradually come to understand where life comes from, to grasp what the heart truly needs, what will lead one to the true path of life, what the mission and goal of a human life ought to be; and one will gradually recognize that if one does not worship the Creator, if one does not come under His dominion, then when one confronts death—when a soul is about to face the Creator once more—one’s heart will be filled with boundless dread and unease. If a person has existed in the world for a handful of decades and yet not come to know where human life comes from, not yet recognized in whose palm human fate rests, then it is no wonder that he or she will not be able to face death calmly. A person who has gained the knowledge of the Creator’s sovereignty after experiencing several decades of life, is a person with a correct appreciation for the meaning and value of life; a person with a deep knowledge of life’s purpose, with real experience and understanding of the Creator’s sovereignty; and even more, a person who is able to submit to the Creator’s authority. Such a person understands the meaning of God’s creation of mankind, understands that man should worship the Creator, that everything man possesses comes from the Creator and will return to Him some day not far in the future; such a person understands that the Creator arranges man’s birth and has sovereignty over man’s death, and that both life and death are predestined by the Creator’s authority. So, when one truly grasps these things, one will naturally be able to face death calmly, to lay aside all of one’s worldly possessions calmly, accept and submit happily to all that follows, and welcome the last life-juncture arranged by the Creator rather than blindly dread it and struggle against it. If one views life as an opportunity to experience the Creator’s sovereignty and come to know His authority, if one sees one’s life as a rare chance to perform one’s duty as a created human being and to fulfill one’s mission, then one will necessarily have the correct outlook on life, will live a life blessed and guided by the Creator, will walk in the light of the Creator, know the Creator’s sovereignty, come under His dominion, become a witness to His miraculous deeds and to His authority. Needless to say, such a person will necessarily be loved and accepted by the Creator, and only such a person can hold a calm attitude toward death, can joyfully welcome life’s final juncture. Job obviously held this kind of attitude toward death; he was in a position to happily accept the final juncture of life, and having brought his life’s journey to a smooth conclusion, having completed his mission in life, he returned to the Creator’s side.
5. Job’s pursuits and gains in life allowed him to calmly face death
In Scripture it is written about Job: “So Job died, being old and full of days.” (Job 42:17) This means that when Job passed away, he had no regrets and felt no pain, but departed naturally from this world. As everyone knows, Job was a man who feared God and shunned evil when he was alive; God commended his righteous deeds, people remembered them, and his life, more than anyone’s, had worth and significance. Job enjoyed God’s blessings and was called righteous by Him on earth, and he was also tried by God and tested by Satan; he stood witness for God and deserved to be called a “righteous person.” During the several decades after he was tried by God, he lived a life that was even more valuable, meaningful, grounded, and peaceful than before. Because of his righteous deeds, God tried him; because of his righteous deeds, God appeared to him and spoke to him directly. So, during the years after he was tried Job understood and appreciated life’s value in a more concrete way, attained a deeper understanding of the Creator’s sovereignty, and gained a more precise and certain knowledge of how the Creator gives and takes away His blessings. The records that Jehovah God bestowed even greater blessings upon Job than He did before, putting Job in an even better position to know the Creator’s sovereignty and to face death calmly. So Job, when he grew old and faced death, certainly would not have been anxious about his property. He had no worries, had nothing to regret, and of course did not fear death; for he spent all his life walking the God-fearing, evil-shunning way, and had no reason to worry about his own end. How many people today could act in all the ways Job did when he confronted his own death? Why is no one capable of maintaining such a simple outward bearing? There is only one reason: Job lived his life in the subjective pursuit of belief, recognition, and submission to God’s sovereignty, and it was with this belief, recognition, and submission that he passed the important junctures in life, lived out his last years, and greeted his life’s final juncture. Regardless of what Job experienced, his pursuits and goals in life were happy, not painful. He was happy not only because of the blessings or commendation bestowed on him by the Creator, but more importantly, because of his pursuits and life goals, because of the gradual knowledge and true understanding of the Creator’s sovereignty that he attained through revering God and shunning evil, and moreover, because of the wondrous deeds of His that Job experienced personally during his time as a subject to the Creator’s sovereignty, and the warm and unforgettable experiences and memories of the coexistence, acquaintance, and mutual understanding between him and God; because of the comfort and happiness that came from knowing the Creator’s will; because of the reverence that arose after seeing that He is great, wondrous, lovable, and faithful. The reason that Job was able to face death without any suffering was that he knew that, in dying, he would return to the Creator’s side. And it was his pursuits and gains in life that allowed him to face death calmly, to face the prospect of the Creator taking back his life, with an even heart, and moreover, to stand up, unsullied and free from care, before the Creator. Can people nowadays achieve the kind of happiness that Job possessed? Are you yourselves in a position to do so? Since people nowadays are, why are they unable to live happily, like Job did? Why are they unable to escape the suffering from the fear of death? When facing death, some people wet themselves; others shiver, faint, lash out against Heaven and man alike, even wail and weep. These are by no means the sudden reactions that occur when death draws near. People behave in these embarrassing ways mainly because, deep in their hearts, they fear death, because they do not have a clear knowledge and appreciation of God’s sovereignty and His arrangements, much less truly submit to them; because people want nothing but to arrange and govern everything themselves, to control their own fates, their own lives and death. It is no wonder, therefore, that people are never able to escape the fear of death.
6. Only by accepting the Creator’s sovereignty can one return to His side
When one does not have a clear knowledge and experience of God’s sovereignty and of His arrangements, one’s knowledge of fate and of death will necessarily be incoherent. People cannot see clearly that all this rests in God’s palm, do not realize that God is in control of and holds sovereignty over them, do not recognize that man cannot cast off or escape such sovereignty; and so when facing death there is no end to their last words, worries, and regrets. They are weighed down by so much baggage, so much reluctance, so much confusion, and all this causes them to fear death. For any person born into this world, their birth is necessary and their death inevitable, and no one can surpass this course. If one wishes to depart from this world painlessly, if one wants to be able to face life’s final juncture with no reluctance or worry, the only way is to leave no regrets. And the only way to depart without regrets is to know the Creator’s sovereignty, to know His authority, and to submit to them. Only in this way can one stay far from human strifes, from evil, from Satan’s bondage; only in this way can one live a life like Job’s, guided and blessed by the Creator, a life that is free and liberated, a life with value and meaning, a life that is honest and openhearted; only in this way can one submit, like Job, to be tried and deprived by the Creator, submit to the Creator’s orchestrations and arrangements; only in this way can one worship the Creator all one’s life and win His commendation, as Job did, and hear His voice, see Him appear; only in this way can one live and die happily, like Job, with no pain, no worry, no regrets; only in this way can one live in light, like Job, pass every one of life’s junctures in light, smoothly complete one’s journey in light, successfully achieve one’s mission—to experience, learn, and come to know the Creator’s sovereignty as a created being—and pass away in light, and for ever after stand at the Creator’s side as a created human being, commended by Him.
from “God Himself, the Unique (III) ”