While skimming the news online I saw a headline that caught my attention. It read:
My friends know I enjoy my coffee, a habit I acquired while serving on board the USS Nimitz. My consumption of coffee varies. A cup or two some days. Other days without any. And others with a bit more. According to the article a person’s coffee consumption is relatively stable over their lifetime, so it seems that I would fit into that “two cups a day” group.
But what interested me about this headline, much more so than the article itself, was the connection between something a person might do and that action’s impact on his or her longevity. The headline connects coffee with a reduced risk of dying, but it can’t be as simple as that. There may be a reduced risk of dying in a general sense but in the end there is no such thing. We all will die. Enoch and Elijah excepted, no one has been bodily taken from life in this world to the next without passing through death’s door. And if a person is not a Christian, or is a Christian who has questions about the truth of God’s revealed word in the Bible, then even those two examples are without merit.
So no matter how much coffee I drink, or how much I exercise, or the amount of broccoli I eat, or any other habit, good or bad, that I may practice, will have any bearing on the ultimate fact of my death. Death will indeed come for me one day. My habits may influence the length of life to a small degree, and they may also influence its quality, but they will not stave off death’s inevitable arrival.
Whenever it may come, I believe as a Christian that only one thing will really matter: my standing with God. In the parable of sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus is seen separating people into two groups, those who knew him truly, and those who didn’t. The ones who knew him as his own receive their inheritance, being joined with him forever, while those in the other group are cast out into the darkness.
We can make all kinds of arguments as we work out our understanding of the Bible, and particularly so as we deal with parables, whose meaning may be less overtly clear than in other texts. But I do believe that to be cast out in the darkness, separated from God eternally, is the ultimate form of loneliness and isolation there can be.
I don’t think that Jesus uses this parable to merely present us with an image of the stark differences between eternal life with or without him, as some sort of attempt to “scare” people into salvation. Jesus graciously shows us the contrasts and invites us to join him, now and forever.
With faith in Jesus we can read Paul’s powerful statement of confidence in God in Romans 8, knowing that his words apply to us as well. In verses 31-38 he writes:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is truly the Good News. Earthly life will end but for the Christian it is merely the gateway to their eternal presence with God.
And that is something for me to remember again the next time I have a cup of coffee.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.