How remembering our mortality helps us live today

3 ways to live in light of eternity

July 12, 2021

One of my favorite book genres is the memoir. Because of its combination of good storytelling and sharp analysis of one’s life and experiences, the memoir, it’s the kind of book I find difficult to put down. 

But one aspect of this book genre always seems to catch me off-guard: death. Inevitably, the memoirist, in recounting the whole of their life up to that point, will write about their childhood and the pivotal role that their parents or some other adult figure played in their development. And, undoubtedly, the author is forced to narrate that person’s process of aging and, often, their death. Despite my love for the genre, I can never escape the sadness that comes with this narrative. Death is the most unnatural thing in the world.

But here we are, living persistently under the shadow of this last enemy, waiting for it to strike. What are we to do? How are we to proceed? What kind of lives should our experience of mortality compel us to live? As counterintuitive as it may seem, death, by God’s grace, can be instructive for a life well-lived. Here are three ways to use for good what Satan meant for evil.

Remember death

Reverend John Ames, the narrator and central character in Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead, said this in a letter to his young son: “Remembering my youth makes me aware that I never really had enough of it, it was over before I was done with it.”

The same could be said of life as a whole; it just zips on by. The apostle James describes our lives as a vapor, here for a little while and then gone (James 4:14). The swiftness with which our lives pass is sort of disorienting, isn’t it? We go to bed as a youngster with dreams and grand aspirations before us, and one day wake up with the aches and pains of middle or old age. As the adage goes, “the days are long, and the years are short.” In the quick blink of an eye, life’s end comes uncomfortably near. 

As unnatural and lamentable as death is, Moses, in his prayer in Psalm 90, provides instruction for how to think about the brevity of our lives. He prayed, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” Instead of shielding our eyes from the reality of death, as our culture is so keen on doing, Moses instructs us to stare death right in the face and “number our days.” Why? For the sake of “developing wisdom in our hearts.” 

For the Christian, “numbering our days” begets wisdom. As Solomon said, “Happy is a man who finds wisdom . . . She (wisdom) is a tree of life to those who embrace her, and those who hold on to her are happy” (Prov. 3:13,18).

Enjoy life

Looking ahead to our impending death also has a way of rooting us in the present and persuading us to enjoy the life we have been given. The fictional Reverend Ames has more to teach us: “Adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief. You must be sure to enjoy it while it lasts.”

Life is a wonderful thing, a gracious gift of God. Though death is unnatural, it is real, and its inevitability reorients us to the preciousness of our present life and the characters written into its script. How might we better enjoy the embrace of a spouse, or the laughter of a child, or the colors of a sunset if we recognize the fleeting nature of these moments?

Even in a sobering text like the book of Ecclesiastes, wherein life’s apparent futility seems like the book’s thesis, the Teacher repeatedly directs his reader to enjoy life: “eat your bread with pleasure, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart . . . Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life” (Eccl.9:7,9). Or, in the words of Reverend Ames again, “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”

Remember death, not to the point of despair, but to widen your eyes to the gifts of God’s grace before you, and to their enjoyment. 

Practice resurrection

For the Christian, remembering death is ultimately a reminder that despite the tragedy of it, death is a defeated foe. More than that, it will one day be rendered inoperable once it is “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14). One day death will die.

Death’s plunge into the fiery lake, for Christians, means “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” as the Apostle’s Creed states. The death of death means that life with God is eternally ongoing. So, to use Wendell Berry’s words, remembering death for the Christian is to “practice resurrection.”

Practicing resurrection means “storing up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20). It is to “proclaim Christ’s death” in the Lord’s Supper “until he comes again” and dines with us around his table (1 Cor. 11:26). Our baptism proclaims our hope — we were buried beneath the waters of death, only to be raised with Christ in the newness of resurrection life. Practicing resurrection means living the already/not yet ethic of the kingdom of God.

In an article titled “You Only Live Forever,” Russell Moore states, “Our lives now are an internship for the eschaton.” Therefore, practicing resurrection means living life today in view of the everlasting life to come, on the other side of death.

He went first

Life in this death-ridden “time between the times” is not easy to reckon with. In our most honest moments, most of us would confess that death remains a frightening reality. It is troubling to imagine the breath of life leaving our bodies. And all this talk about “practicing resurrection” would be a pitiful exercise if it were not for one thing: the resurrected one, Jesus Christ.

My former pastor liked to say that “the only thing unique about Jesus’ resurrection is that he went first.” His point was not to minimize Jesus’ miraculous return from the tomb of death but to highlight the fact that Jesus is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). If Jesus has not been raised, then all this talk about remembering death is in vain, and we are to be most pitied. But because Jesus has been raised, we can sing in the face of death, saying “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting” (1 Cor. 15:55)?  And, moreover, we can approach the day of our death in faith, using it as a means of developing wisdom, as a reminder to enjoy God’s grace each day, and as an impetus to practice resurrection, to see this life as an internship for the life everlasting. 

Death remains our enemy, this much is certain. But what Satan meant for evil, in his whisperings to Eve and in Christ’s agonized cries from the cross, God has turned for our good. The crucified and resurrected one has crushed the head of the serpent, and because “he went first,” our resurrection will soon follow. Death has been defeated, and that’s worth remembering in a way that transforms our lives today. 

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24