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032 Spying Eternity From Atop Mt. Stupid

What will it be like to die, do you suppose?

I'm just a bit over 60. I'm reasonably healthy and all my grandparents lived to ripe ages, but my life is almost certainly more than half over and I'm staring to think about what's next. I'll tell you about it, but first I want to explain "Mt. Stupid."

The Internet has acquainted us all with folks--lots and lots of them--who love to tell you what they think about subjects where it's clear that they know next to nothing. {Lowers voice.} It's also put us in touch with our own willingness to do this. Or am I the only one who's discovered this? Uh-huh. {Normal voice again.} 

Let's imagine a graph. Along the X axis (the horizontal one) we're measuring our actual knowledge of a subject, using whatever units we like--years of study, degrees, whatever. Along the Y axis (the vertical one) we're measuring how willing we are to express our opinion about that subject. (I've actually embedded an image of this graph, below. We'll see how well it displays.)

Now, if we were all stable, mature, and humble, the graph showing the relationship between those would stay very, very close to the bottom of the chart as we move from left to right until we were pretty far to the right of the origin point. Then it would start to rise. That is, we wouldn't want to express ourselves while we know little, but as we grow gradually more knowledgeable we'd correspondingly become more willing to talk on that subject.

But we're not all that humble, are we? No. It turns out that when we go from "zero" knowledge to "a little" knowledge, we get a jolt of confidence in our new-found expertise and start explaining it to everyone. "Hey, I know all about this! I read the Wikipedia article!" This goes on until we learn more and find out how it's really a lot more complicated than we first observed. Sometimes it goes on until we encounter somebody who genuinely knows the subject and, often without meaning to, makes us look idiotic. Or sometimes it never stops; we just continue in our blissful self-delusion.

On our graph, this appears as a big hump in our willingness to talk about a subject very close to the origin point, when we really know very little. Then as our knowledge increases, our willingness to talk drops down to something more reasonable.

That hump, folks, is what we call Mt. Stupid. It's remarkably easy to climb. And the world looks so very clear from up there.



It turns out that I take a little hike up that mountain a few times a year, considering what it would be like to die.

Now, I was about to write "This isn't some sort of morbid curiosity," but in fact, that is exactly what it is: morbid curiosity, curiosity about dying. 

But it's not an unhealthy thing, for a Christian. We want to know what it's like to be in the Presence, without the nuisance of our physical bodies interfering. We want to know the answers to all those nagging questions about meaning. We want the struggle to be over. "Are we there yet, Daddy? It's taking too long!"

Paul wrote about it in his letter to the Philippians: "To live is Christ. To die is gain. I don't know which I want more." (See Phil 1:21-26.)

It came up this week when an Internet acquaintence--the same one who introduced me to "Mt. Stupid," as it happens--made a comment about a cold he was suffering. Apparently it was a bad one. The thought occurred to him that dying would hurt more than the cold, but he wasn't sure how.

Immediately this launched me into my periodic imagination about dying. I see myself anticipating leaping into a completely unknown realm. I try to recall the feeling I get when starting an amusement park ride that will produce fear; say, a very large rollercoaster. 

And then I try to discount the little talk that I use to prepare myself for such rides: "Millions of people have taken this ride and have not died." I discount it because, after all, this IS dying... and it's consequential. What happens next counts. It's not just an amusement.

Then it occurs to me that in fact, I don't have a clue what it's going to feel like. The only data I have come from stories of near-death experiences, and who knows how accurate they are? Nobody's ever told me how death felt to them. There's nothing about it in the scriptures. I have no idea if it will feel like what I'm imagining. In fact, all that I'm imagining is the fear I might feel when approaching something so very foreign and unknown as God in His heaven; I'm not even thinking a little about how much it's going to hurt, getting sick enough that my body stops functioning.

So anything I anticipate about my own death, I'm viewing it from a comfy little observation deck on top of Mt. Stupid.

When I realize that, that's when I stop thinking about it and go on about my business. Lather, rinse, repeat the next time it comes up.

Death is a tough subject even for an observer. The times I've been around somebody who might be dying, what I felt mostly was discomfort at having nothing to say, plus a vague sense of guilt. I felt guilty because I thought I ought to have been moved more profoundly by somebody else's suffering, but in fact I just felt awkward and inconvenienced having to be there. I wondered if there was something wrong with me, that I didn't feel anything else, but I'm pretty sure that most everybody feels the same. 

The truth is that we're all going to die, and none of us will have a good idea what it will be like until we do it. The only exceptions will be those who are still around when Jesus returns, and I'm not even certain that those won't go through something similar to dying in the process. The rest of us, this is our destiny.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled lives. Your departure date is still in the future. You'll deal with it when it gets here. So will I.

Live righteously until then, and trust Jesus to complete His work well. That, at least, will minimize your anxiety when you cross over. Apart from that, I have nothing useful to say other than, "Stay off of Mt. Stupid."
 

Phil Weingart

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