If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:32 TNIV).
When John Brandrick got the diagnosis, there was no doubt in his mind how he wanted to spend the last months of his life.
"Pancreatic cancer" were the words from the doctor's lips two year ago. John was told he would most probably be dead within a year. The 62-year-old from Cornwall, in western England, decided that his last year would be his best. The first thing he did was to quit his job. He began selling or giving away almost everything he owned. He stopped paying his mortgage.
And then he started spending the money he'd spent a frugal lifetime saving. He went out for expensive meals regularly, often treating his friends. He went on numerous vacations. With no reason left to save his money, John did everything he had ever wanted to do. "When they tell you you've got a limited time and everything, you do enjoy life," he told a British TV station. He definitely enjoyed himself: within a year he had almost nothing except the suit and tie he had chosen as his funeral clothes.
Strangely though, John never started feeling really bad. As John's last year started to wind down, his doctor made a shocking discovery. An "oops" of monumental proportions. John didn't have pancreatic cancer at all. He had an inflammation of the pancreas. It was painful. It was serious. But it was treatable.
It was most certainly not fatal — not even really life-threatening.
John has understandably mixed emotions. "I'm really pleased that I've got a second chance in life," he says, "but if you haven't got no money after all this, which is my fault — I spent it all — they should pay something back." John is in fact suing the doctor who diagnosed him to try to recoup some of his losses, and plans to sue the hospital if he loses the lawsuit against the doctor. The hospital has expressed their sympathy for John's situation, but says a review of his case showed that no other diagnosis could have legitimately been made.
I don't have the medical or legal expertise to argue about whether or not the doctor or hospital should have to pay — I'm guessing probably not — but I do sympathize with John. Sure, in hindsight it now looks like a pretty bad idea to quit his job and spend all his money, but from the front end of that diagnosis John's actions seem perfectly reasonable. In fact, if John had kept working hard and frugally saving his money, someone might reasonably have asked him what future he was planning for. "Enjoy yourself while you can," they might have told him. "After all, you're not going to be around much longer."
I don't mean to question John Brandrick's faith; I have no standing to do so, and the article I read said nothing one way or the other about it. I see an analogy, though. Could it be that some of us, even some of us who would claim faith in Jesus, live our lives with the same kind of mistaken impression that John had?
The thing is, it's not true.
God tells us, in fact, that life is not short at all. Sure, the lives we live here on earth can seem awfully short. However, the Bible consistently implies and suggests and finally just says outright is that death isn't the end. Paul says that if this life is all there is, then what the people were saying in Isaiah's time, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die," was good advice. But, it wasn't good advice — not in Isaiah's time, nor in Paul's, nor in our own. "The truth is that Christ has been raised up," he writes, "the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries" (1 Corinthians 15:20 The Message)
It sounds so old-school to talk about standing before God and judgment, and heaven and hell, but old-school doesn't equal wrong. Think of all the times Jesus told parables about servants waiting for their masters to return, and how the ones who were busy with the work that had been left for them to do would fare best when the master did get back. I don't think the reality of Jesus' return should be used to make believers live in constant fear that their efforts aren't good enough. On the other hand, it's a mistake to live like this life is all there is. It will make you sloppy and undisciplined as far as God's priorities are concerned. It'll show in the way you use your time and resources, the way you treat people, the way you handle pain and disappointment. It'll show in the values and priorities and character that make you who you are.
I met a woman today who admitted to me that she's kind of slipped away from the church and from God in her adult life. I said something to her about God being there waiting when she was ready to come back to him, but she already knew that. "I've been thinking that it's time to get back in touch with him," she said, almost to herself. These were the words of a woman who is wondering about living her remaining years in the hope, peace, and anticipation of resurrection.
Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of thinking that life is all about fulfilling all your dreams and getting everything you want before you die. Don't buy into the lie that life is short and playing hard ought to be our raison d'etre. Death is not your end, not any more than pancreatic cancer was the end of John Brandrick's life. There's a whole lot of life left on the other side of your funeral. Live like you're expecting it. Live with eternal priorities. Make God's business your business. In Jesus, after all, life isn't short. It's forever.