There is a great difference in excellency, usefulness, and comfort between people of clear, digested knowledge, and confused, undigested apprehensions. -Richard Baxter

resolutions to die trying to live by

Death, it’s been said, is our last enemy. Though it befalls all men, it ought not ever been regarded as a purely natural event. We do not ever, as a professor I had once said, “make friends” with death. We may come to terms with it, acknowledge its reality and inevitability, learn to adjust to its demands–but never are we to smile at death, to welcome it as a benign, fortuitous thing, except in terms of what follows that death. The relief from suffering that death culminates in is a grace, but death, per se, is no cordial bedfellow. Why else would Jesus have been not merely sorrowful at Lazarus’ death, but, as the text says, indignant at its continued reality?

Now that my family and I have faced death most poignantly of late, we’ve had times of reflection foisted upon us. And so we’ve surmised that death is also, as it were, an alarm. It wakes us from the incoherence we’ve been lulled into by the world, or our own sense of self-importance. In that sense death is, ironically, a salutary thing. It forces us to rediscover what really is worth committing to, what really has value.

John Piper has been kind to summarize the words of one Clyde Kilby, a professor of English Lit at Wheaton back in the 1970’s. With all the profundity and succinctness of Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions, Kilby offers some helpful–or better, necessary–disciplines for life that would keep us from falling into the incoherence that the encounter with death sometimes must rouse us from.

so, as for fresh starts to the new year, consider these.

1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.

2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.

4. I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.

5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.

6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.

7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”

8. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.

9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.

10. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega

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