While walking through a bookstore recently, I saw an end-cap display featuring this book: How Not to Die. Curious, I looked the book up on the web and I found this synopsis: The vast majority of premature deaths can be prevented through simple changes in diet and lifestyle. In ‘How Not to Die,’ Dr. Michael Greger, the internationally-renowned nutrition expert, physician, and founder of NutritionFacts.org, examines the fifteen top causes of premature death in America-heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s, high blood pressure, and more-and explains how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can sometimes trump prescription pills and other pharmaceutical and surgical approaches, freeing us to live healthier lives.
The title, of course, is misleading. There is no way to avoid death. Death comes to kings and beggars, Hamlet declared. No one escapes death. What a lovely thought that we might—or might postpone it.
Dr. Greger’s claims of longer life is not unique. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of books and websites claim to have the answer to how to prolong life. And perhaps these techniques actually do make a difference—for some. Perhaps the often-extreme suggestions for modifying diet and lifestyle actually will extend one’s life—for some. Still, we will all die. It is inevitable.
As a pastor, I have had the experience of being present when many people were facing the end of their lives. Some faced their imminent demise with grace and gratitude, often welcoming death as an end to their suffering. Others fought the coming of death with fierceness and even anger, unwilling to give up one moment sooner than necessary. I have seen both these behaviors in Christ-followers and I have seen both in non-believers.
We all fear death to some extent. Death is as mysterious as life itself. It is fearful and almost unimaginable that someone who lived, who is loved, who is here, is suddenly no longer here. All that made that individual unique in the history of humanity ceases to exist. Where did s/he go? Does s/he continue to exist in some form? What form? Will we see her/him again? Or is this life all there is?
As people of faith, we believe there is something beyond death. Whether this post-death existence is physical or spiritual is truly unknown. Many Christians believe in a physical afterlife, which is why cremation was frowned upon for so many years. More Christians, I think, would say that they believe in some sort of spiritual eternal life, without being sure what that means, since we cannot conceive of ourselves existing without physical form. One devout Christian told me that she believed that eternal life was expressed in one’s offspring and in the impact one had on the lives of those around you—and how those qualities were passed on.
One thing is certain: in spite of Dr. Greger’s provocative book title, we will all die. And none of us knows what happens next. For my part, I trust in the presence of a loving and merciful God, and therefore, I do not worry about what comes after this earthly existence. I trust that God will be there—wherever “there” is—just as God is here for me (us) now. And anything—any existence—in which there is God will be good.