Tuesday, May 17, 2011

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Facing the certainty of death

Two starkly different men share the same hospital room and the same fate: they only have six months to live. The cancer has spread. Medical science can't do much. And the haunting question they come face-to-face with is: Now what?

Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), a blue-collar mechanic who's so smart he always has answers to questions in Jeopardy, grabs a pad and writes his so-called bucket list, things he'd like to do before . . . the end: See something majestic. Laugh until I cry. It's all so sentimental.

Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is a billionaire who owns the hospital. He's the typical magnate: all his life he has endeavored to become rich, and he has come to a point where he can buy anything he wants—except real joy. His marriages have failed. He's not in speaking terms with his only daughter. He hides his emptiness by filling his life with worldly pleasures.

Suddenly he comes up with an idea: he and Carter will do things they've never done before. In the next few months, they will explore the world, jump off a plane, ride the cars of their dreams. Money shouldn't be an issue. Edward, who owns a private jet, will pay for everything.

These undertakings form the central idea of The Bucket List, a 2008 movie directed by Rob Reiner. The story is simply too good to be true. Patients who have undergone brain surgeries don't just go out and climb mountains; they'd rather rest at home. And the rich would rather have their own rooms.

But the film wants to teach a lesson. In a touching scene where Edward and Carter are on top of the pyramids, the ever-so-smart Edward shares an Egyptian story about death. The story goes this way: Before the souls entered heaven,  they were asked two questions: Have you found joy in your life? And has your life brought joy to others?. Their answers would determine whether they'd be allowed to enter or not.

I wouldn't call The Bucket List a great movie, but it certainly is one that can make you think of death. What do we know about death anyway? We know it's a natural, physiological episode of human existence. But what happens after?

Thankfully, the God of the Bible has not left the question of death hanging. The Bible says that we're so sinful we cannot do anything to merit a ticket to heaven. This sin is a disease, a malady that God despises. But the good news is that a holy God has so loved the world that sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to receive the punishment for our sins. By acknowledging that we have sinned, by believing and coming to Jesus in faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), we are made righteous in God's eyes. And God has promised in John 5:24:
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
I like what Pastor John Piper tweeted recently:
God is true. All humans are dead in sin. Christ crucified, risen, preached, and believed is the only life. Go tell everyone.
I know of people who seem helpless at conversations about death. I ask them why, and they tell me they don't know what will happen, what will await them on the other side, if there is one. They're not sure if they're going to heaven because they're not sure if they've been good enough.

Clearly a person doesn't need a bucket list to be assured of his eternal destiny. Watch the movie to remind you that death is near and certain, but remember, too, the great, amazing news that God has lovingly given sinful people like us.

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