I don’t want to ruin your day, but a few weeks hence and no one will know your name.
Okay, I’m exaggerating! A bit more accurately, in two or three generations you will not be remembered at all. More bluntly still: you will be forgotten. This truth, like the nose on your face, is so obvious that you rarely notice.
If you’re not sure you agree with me, take this quick quiz: what are the first and last names of your maternal great-grandparents? Did you pass the exam? Extra credit: what are the first names of your paternal great-great-grandparents? Are you still in the game? Name Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president. Ok, maybe you do know that J. Edgar Hoover was Eisenhower’s VP, but you get my point.
The writer of Ecclesiastes understood, too. He was absolutely right that death puts the memory of us to death. Consider this:
Of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! (Ecclesiastes 2:16)
It gets worse. Later in his book the preacher laments:
The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. (Ecclesiastes 9:5)
Forgotten. Think on that for a moment. Forgotten.
Last month I went to the funeral of Jim Nelson Sr. Jim was the founding pastor of Trinity Baptist Church. The Reverend Dr. James Nelson was, at one time, kind of a big deal in Santa Barbara. It was under his leadership that Trinity grew, purchased property, and built the buildings that Santa Barbara Community Church enjoys today. Jim was known for his preaching skills, he wrote a few books, and he led a large staff. But eventually he went the way of all the earth
(1 Kings 2:2): Jim retired, moved to Arizona, and died at age ninety-six. I had met Jim once and heard him preach once. But I made his funeral a priority. In some sense I felt like I was going to my own funeral because our lives are, in many ways, parallel. The service was sweet, God-honoring, appropriate, sorrowful, and joy-filled. Probably 175 or so attended. We sang songs, celebrated Jim’s life, gave thanks for his faithfulness and for the faithfulness of God… and then we went home. Jim had not been forgotten by the time of his death. But he will be. And so will you and I be. Forgotten.
Does it haunt you at all to know that you will be forgotten? That the memory of you will be erased like the math teacher’s scribblings on a whiteboard between third period and fourth? Are you troubled that one day you will die and your world will die with you? As Job bitterly put it, there is more hope for a tree than for me!
For there is hope for a tree,
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grow old in the earth,
and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put out branches like a young plant.
But a man dies and is laid low;
man breathes his last, and where is he?
As waters fail from a lake
and a river wastes away and dries up,
so a man lies down and rises not again;
till the heavens are no more he will not awake
or be roused out of his sleep. (Job 14:7-12)
So, I ask, is the prospect of your physical demise and the disappearance of your remembrance troubling to your soul? I certainly hope so. I hope there is a loud protest in you that cries out, There has to be more!
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, American playwright and poet, didn’t approve of death, and neither should we. We are not resigned, but we die.
The Apostle Paul called death the last enemy. He was right. As Peter Kreeft points out, death is not only our enemy; death is God’s enemy! God is Creator, and death is the most uncreative thing there is. Death destroys; God gives life! Death undoes what God has done: death assaults his good work. The story of the Bible can be summarized, however, as an account of God’s triumph over death, and there the deep joy of the Christian life is found.
By the time you read this, Easter will be just around the corner. Lord willing, we will gather and celebrate not simply the day that Jesus rose, but also the day that death died. Easter is not simply Resurrection Sunday. Easter is Death-of-Death Sunday! It happened like this: A man from Nazareth, a small, nondescript town in Galilee, had been crucified a few days earlier. And the same man was raised by God the Father from the grave! Nothing has ever been the same since. Both the power of death and the finality of death were broken once and for all. On Easter morning, the snow began to melt, winter was over, the future was no longer what it used to be, for death itself had been conquered. In the resurrection of Jesus is the promise of resurrection—bodily resurrection!—for those who love him.
Death conquered? If that is true, then the memory of me will not, after all, be erased. You see, when I am in Christ, my name has been written in The Book of Life. And this is a book God reads! That means he remembers my name; he remembers me.
Death disarmed, death disempowered, death dethroned. Still an enemy, but one whose days are numbered and whose strength is all but sapped. Our hope is built on the conviction that the story turns out well: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. (Revelation 21:4)
Aren’t you glad we have a Redeemer? Forgotten no more.