I'm at the age where the first items I check in the newspaper are the police blotter and the obituaries. If I'm not in either one, then I can get out of bed with confidence!
My wife and I have jokingly discussed what I'd like my obit to say. Most obits have the deceased's nickname in quotation marks. Some are obvious, like "Richard 'Rich' Smith." Some really make you wonder. My favorite is "Dead Rat." The circumstances surrounding that nickname are left to the imagination. I'd like something more exciting than "Alan 'Al' Allegra," but preferably something that doesn't involve animals.
Epitaphs are short summaries of a person's life. I've already decided on the words for my tombstone: "I'm glad it's over with (Job 5:7)."
I enjoy reading the occasional biography, especially when I can buy one cheap at the library sale. I recently started to read about one of America's prominent political families, but their stories were so scandalous that I couldn't finish the book. Normally, I return books to the library to be resold or give them away but I just threw this one away. I did not want to share it with anyone. It made me think about how I will be remembered if I die before the Lord returns.
Most of us don't write our own biographies or epitaphs. However, a divine author is writing down everything we say and do in a permanent record that is not disposable.
We generally care about what people think of us. Society may tell us to "Live fast, die hard, and leave a good-looking corpse" but the shallowness of such an admonition is painfully obvious. No matter what we look like when we die, our character will compose our mental epitaphs. Rarely will a person be eulogized, even briefly, on his or her looks, wealth or achievements without reference to personality. "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold" (Proverbs 22:1). As history and collective amnesia erode our clay tombstones, the inner core of character will be that which stands against the elements of time. A person's record of achievements can be enhanced by a pleasant reputation or tarnished by pungent recollections. "The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot" (Proverbs 10:7).
We can influence our epitaph by the life we lead, a life that displays our character. It was said of Jesus that he "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). After Dorcas died, when Peter arrived, "All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them" (Acts 9:39). Her reputation, "always doing good and helping the poor" (9:36), was evidenced by the tears of her friends and the traces of her finger work.
While we work on our reputation on earth, our works are reported in heaven. Fast living, hard dying, and good-looking corpses do not figure in the end. Somber words from Scripture: "And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds" (Revelation 20:12). "I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36).
We compose our own epitaph and obit before we decompose. What are you writing with your life?
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