I recently watched the Marvel movie , in which the title character begins as a self-important, famous, wealthy neurosurgeon and ends as a 'sorcerer supreme', whose job it is to protect planet Earth from dark powers from other dimensions, using magic.
I have to admit I do love the Marvel franchise, and even though it might not be my favourite movie ever, I did enjoy it. As such, I watched it again a few months later, and some themes and ideas stuck out to me that I didn't really pick up on the first watch. Namely, that the meaning of life can be found in being finite.
The 'bad guys' in the film are led by Kaecilius, once a disciple of the Ancient One (the original sorcerer supreme who teaches her ways to Strange).These guys are overcome by a desire to live forever. Kaecilius intends to release a dark, powerful, infinite force from another dimension on Earth, so that he may be part of this eternal dimension.
The first time that Kaecilius and Dr Strange come face to face, Kaecilius tries to persuade Strange to join their cause by tempting him with the prospect of immortality. After all, why would anyone want to die if they could choose not to? It seems as though Strange may be tempted, before he declares, “Death is what gives life meaning.”
As the movie continues, Strange finds new joy and satisfaction in thinking of others beside himself, and of course, in the end (spoiler alert) he sends Kaecilius and his band of zealots into the dark, eternal, dimension (which they thought they wanted), and saves the world.
Death is what gives life meaning
Paul expressed that he longed to be with Christ in eternity, but that it was necessary for him to remain on Earth to do the work of Christ (Philippians chapter 1 verses 22 - 24).
Jesus himself asked, “What good would it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew chapter 16 verse 26).
In other words, think about death, and then think about life. Consider eternity, then consider your limited time here and now.
How we think about death, directly effects how we think about life
It might seem a bit morbid to 'think about' death, but if you stop to consider for a moment what you think/feel/believe about death and the afterlife, I can pretty much guarantee you'll be able to see how that affects the way you live: the way you treat people, the way you spend your time and money.
If we go back to the example of Dr Strange, the reason he ended up at the doorstep of the Ancient One was after a horrible car accident damaged his hands so badly, he would never be able to perform surgery again.
Prior to the accident, Strange lived purely to satisfy his own selfish desires. He only performed surgery on the most difficult and bizarre cases, to prove that he could and to garner more fame and accolades. He used his considerable income to live in a large and expensive apartment with city views, surrounded by his equally expensive stuff (think drawers full of high end watches, revolving wardrobes of designer suits, and the car that he crashed: a Lamborghini).
His one significant relationship was with another doctor, his ex-girlfriend, who had left him because he was so self-centred.
After Strange's accident, he quite readily admits he would rather be dead then be alive with damaged hands, unable to continue his surgical work at his previous level.
Fast forward towards the end of the movie, and Strange, looking down the barrel of a dark immortality, realises he would rather live, and make his life count, then face a bleak, lonely eternity.
You might think I'm heading towards some sort of “so if you don't want to face a bleak eternity too, you better make your life count!” ending statement...I'm not. Neither was the apostle Paul, and neither really was Jesus. They both believed that eternity (of the awesome, light, spending-it-with-Jesus kind) was not just a reason to die, but a reason to truly live!
The reality is, if, like Paul, we are confident that we will spend eternity with Christ, if we have no fear in death, we are free to live a good life, one that cares about people instead of stuff, experiences instead of money, and joy instead of fear.
On the flip side, fear of death causes an anxious life, filled with over-cautious decision-making, where we miss out on all life has to offer. Not caring about death at all (believing there is no after life for example), opens us up to not caring about anything or anyone, because after all, what would be the point?
As Christians, we can often be so caught up in eternity that we forget we have a reason to be here and now, and have a responsibility to do Christ's work while we're here. Or, we can be so focussed on doing that work, that we never really consider what our personal relationship with Christ actually looks like, acting out of obligation instead of love.
Pie in the sky when you die, steak on a plate while you wait
Instead, we should allow death to give life meaning, and (as a good friend of mine likes to say) look forward to the pie in the sky when we die, whilst enjoying the steak on the plate while we wait.
Following Jesus isn't about Heaven when you die, and it isn't about living his ways now. It's both, and it's awesome!
Jess is married to Colin and they have a young daughter who is teaching them more than they are teaching her. Jess is also a recent college graduate who has no idea what she will do with her ministry degree, but is passionate about following Jesus wherever he may lead.
Jessica Currie’s previous articles may be viewed at: http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jessica-currie.html