I watched a movie a couple of days ago. That, in itself, is a notable event as it happens very seldom. But there was one scene which raised some interesting questions in my mind. Is it possible to stare death in the face with confidence? What does it take to have hope when confronted with the possibility of dying?
The movie was a 2013 suspense thriller, called Gravity. In the movie, Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney. On a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone – tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth...and any chance for rescue. Eventually they become separated and Stone is left on her own to find a way back to earth. At one point she manages to get to a Soyuz spacecraft, where she is sitting, freezing and hallucinating, not knowing what to do. She begins thinking about her daughter who had been killed years earlier, at the age of 4, in a freak playground accident. In her hallucination, she begins to talk to her daughter.
“I’m gonna die … I know, we’re all gonna die, everybody knows that … but I’m gonna die today … funny that, to know … but the thing is, I’m still scared … I’m really scared. No one will mourn for me, no one will pray for my soul. Will you pray for me? Will you say a prayer for me? Or is it too late? … I mean, I’d pray for myself, but I’ve never prayed in my life, so … nobody ever taught me how … nobody ever taught me how.”
Over the past couple of days, that scene has haunted me. The sadness of someone coming face to face with death, and having no hope—of being completely unprepared—is overwhelming. I am reminded of the words of Hebrews 2:15 which speaks of those “… who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” For someone who has no hope for eternity, the prospect of death is both frightening and enslaving.
How different this is from a person like the Apostle Paul. In his final hours, as he faced the prospect of death, he wrote these words to his young apprentice, Timothy:
“I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
What made the difference? There are two things that come to my mind. The first is the knowledge of sins forgiven. Knowing that Christ has died for my sin, and that through faith I have been forgiven and am assured of an eternal home with Christ, makes death less frightening. The second difference is a life that has been lived with purpose. The Apostle Paul knew that he had put everything on the line for Christ. He could have confidence in the reward that was awaiting him because long before he had surrendered everything and had left everything from this life behind in order to follow Christ and serve Him.
So, yes, it is possible to face death with confidence and hope. But only because of what Christ has done for us. As we trust him, for salvation and for service, he gives us hope that extends beyond this life into eternity.
Gordon Rowland has been a Missionary-Pastor with Village Missions of Canada for over 35 years. Gordon and his wife Val have lived and served in Clive since 2001. They have four children and nine wonderful grandchildren.