It is only logical that as a person grows older, or as he is faced with a debilitating physical condition or a terminal disease, he dwells more on what lies beyond death. You may have a family member who is nearing the end of this life, and you have noticed that she speaks of death without fear. Maybe she talks a lot about heaven. Maybe this makes you uncomfortable.
There’s a character like that in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment—a deviant man named Svidrigailov. At one point he starts talking about ghosts, and the main character, a student named Raskolnikov, asks him if he is ill. Here is what he says:
A man in health has, of course, no reason to see [ghosts], because he is above all a man of this earth and is bound for the sake of completeness and order to live only in this life. But as soon as one is ill, as soon as the normal earthly order of the organism is broken, one begins to realise the possibility of another world; and the more seriously ill one is, the closer becomes one’s contact with the other world, so that as soon as the man dies he steps straight into that world.
I don’t believe in ghosts, but I think Svidrigailov has at least one point: We get more serious about the next world when we know our time in this one is drawing to a close.
That made me think. Wouldn’t we accomplish more for God if we thought about heaven before we got too sick or too old to do much for him? With that in mind, here are three tips for how to dwell on then now:
- Read the Word of God. This is the only book you can trust on the afterlife. God’s Word is where you can find his promises of heaven and his warnings of hell. The more you read it, the more you will dwell on the next life.
- Show compassion to those who are nearing the end. Visit those who are elderly and shut-in. Go to the nursing home. Visit the hospitals. Go to funerals. Solomon said,
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. …The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ecc. 7:2-4)
He wasn’t forbidding us to have a good time. Solomon was telling us to spend some time in places that remind us of how short life on earth is. This is wisdom.
- Get away from this life for a little while every day. The reason why we think more about the next life as we get older or when we get sick is because these conditions forcibly draw us away from this life. But we don’t have to be forced to withdraw. We can have quiet periods built into every day for prayer and meditation. These periods are not only humbling, they are restorative (Ps. 39:3).
It may be sobering to dwell on the brevity of this life and the inevitability of the next, but it is also wise. We are all headed to another world whether we’re ready for it or not.