Memento mori

I almost died today, travelling at 60mph on a two lane road in the north east of Scotland. Turning a corner, I was confronted with another car in my lane just 50 yards ahead of me. I slammed on the brakes and my car snaked violently as it slowed. The other driver sped up to complete his dangerous manoeuvre, dipping back into his lane just in time. The whole thing was over in a few seconds, maybe three. I have no idea how we didn’t collide. If I’d come round the corner three seconds later, we would both be dead. It’s a sobering thought.

This incident was the second in my life where I could have become a statistic but was spared. The first was just a few years ago when I was rear-ended by a drunk driver on the motorway, causing my car to spin 360 degrees and collide with a concrete barrier. I walked away from that crash with nothing but a fat lip – I inadvertently punched myself in the face with the force of the collision. The car was a write off – completely destroyed. But I was fine. It could have – should have – been a lot worse.

These kind of events are a wake-up call. A real shock, and a reminder that our continued existence upon this earth is by no means guaranteed. It really isn’t an exaggeration to say we could die at any time. I’ve almost died at least twice, and I’m only 30. Who knows that I won’t meet a worse driver on the road tomorrow, or the next day? Or drop dead from an undiagnosed heart condition. Who knows that you won’t?

As I write these words, I’m aware how bleak they sound, but they’re true. The thing about life is it’s unpredictable. It’s unsafe. There are no real guarantees. In fact, the only real guarantee any of us have in this world is that life will come to an end one day. This could be suddenly, like in a car crash, through illness, or through natural causes. ‘Memento mori’ is a fitting maxim for every age and particularly our own, a veritable Vanity Fair of busyness and distraction that allows us to coast along for decades with scant regard for our own mortality.

King Solomon, who famously asked God for the gift of wisdom rather than great wealth or renown, recorded his reflections on life in a book called Ecclesiastes. It’s also considered to be a tad depressing – a great man looking back on his life, all that he achieved and amassed, and concluding that it means nothing in the grand scheme of things. ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’ is the book’s famous refrain. At the end of Ecclesiastes, Solomon provides his conclusions about a truly well-lived life.

“Remember your creator”, the wise king says, “before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”. He adds: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Note the lesson Solomon wishes to impart. Death is coming, that is for certain. The silver cord will snap. The bowl will break. And before death comes – at a time we do not know – we must remember our creator, and ensure we have obeyed his commandments. For one day we will stand before the creator and be asked to give an account for the life we have lived. Have you ever thought about this? Because if Solomon is right, it’s the most important thing you could ever reckon with.

A few thousand years after King Solomon lived, another great figure appeared on earth speaking words of wisdom, though he wasn’t esteemed by the powerful and privileged of his day. Like Solomon, Jesus Christ urged men and women to remember their creator and warned that none of us will be able to stand before God by our own merits: our perceived good behaviour throughout life.

He came with good news though: there is a way to right standing with God – Jesus himself. As the apostle said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). We need only go to Jesus, confess our wrongdoing against God, and ask him to forgive and save us. Then begins a life of obedience by his illumination and in his strength.

This is the great consoling truth that underpins my life. It’s why I don’t fear when I step into the car in the morning. Death isn’t the end, it’s the door to communion with the God who made me, and who loves me. He loves you too, friend. And he wants to hear from you. Run to God before it’s too late.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Matthew 7:7

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