Often in my life I have mused upon the problem of death, because in reality death is our ultimate enemy, the destroyer of our hopes and dreams and the end of our existence. Why is death our ultimate enemy, an enemy shared not only by all human beings but by everything else? Most enemies hate us with a certain passion. Perhaps we have wronged them, or perhaps they see us as a threat or a rival, and so they have devoted themselves to hostility towards us. This sort of enemy has some sort of feeling, some sort of passion, at the basis of their hostility, and so such an enemy cannot be an ultimate enemy. What makes death our ultimate enemy is that it does not hate us with a passion, but rather is enitrely indifferent and uncaring, a total negation of our lives and goals rather than a passionate hostility to them.
Given that from dust we were born and to dust we return, our ability to do anything against death is highly limited. As we do not have life inherent in us, we all must face the reality that we will sleep in the grave when our days fail. Physically speaking, our bodies will decompose and enrich the earth that we inhabited for but a brief span of time. If we are the vain type of rulers, we will try to build monuments to our lives, whether buildings or institutions. But we have no way to control how we will be remembered after we are gone. How we are remembered depends on entirely on others, for once we die we cannot even defend ourselves from the grave, and must leave our defense to others, if they are so inclined. Some people are praised in life and in death, some are cursed in life and remembered fondly later on. Others are praised in life by sycophants and then slandered and cursed in death by cowards when they are no longer able to defend themselves.
When people die, especially those whose death strikes a chord with me, I seek to make some record of their lives, to provide at least some memory of their existence, so that as far as I am concerned they did not live in vain. For example, I once had a friend when I lived in Tampa, a friendly and kind-hearted middled-aged bachelor who had a lengthy struggle with cancer. As his weight and energy declined because of a tumor that was near the place where his stomach and esophagus met, I was concerned about his ability to overcome both his cancer and its treatment, and on the morning of the Feast of Trumpets, after I had dreamed a particularly unusual and striking dream, he died after a long battle. I do not know to what extent that other people remember him–he had no children and very little family to remember him, but I ponder about his life and death, and the way in which he was denied the usual way that people tend to be remembered, given that he was never wealthy, had no surviving family to immortalize him, and was not a person of sufficient fame and reputation to be well or widely known. Even among the brethren, he was a fairly recent member of only a few years before his untimely demise, but he was a decent man anyway, well worth being remembered. And yet his death was announced once in church and then that was that, no further memorial of his life or death except for perhaps a short obituary in the local newspaper, if anyone bothered to write one. And yet other people die, both godly and ungodly, and are remembered and immortalized. I have even turned my hand at providing some sort of memorial of a life lived for family members.
In thinking about death, cancer is not a way I would like to go. One of my grandparents died of cancer, of a lung cancer brought on by a lengthy and serious smoking habit. Sometimes a disease like that seems clearly related to our own misconduct, even if the penalty seems grossly disproportionate to the offense. There are other people that I have known, or at least met (even if I did not have the chance to know them well) who have died of cancer, and I have thought much differently about their manner of death, even if it was the same death, based upon the way that they had lived their lives. In thinking of two people, for example, who were in charge of religious organizations and who died of cancer, I saw a rapid death in one a sign of judgment and in another a sign of mercy. Sometimes the circumstances that happen to us can be justice or mercy depending on how one looks at them and on how they have lived their lives. If someone has lived a rich and full life and has accomplished what God has set for them to do, then a quick death (even one so dreadful as cancer) can be a sign of mercy, in God not letting someone linger and decline, but rather taking them out of the way quickly. At other times, a quick death can be a sign of displeasure. Ultimately life and death are out of our hands, except if we should try our hand at self-destruction. The rest of us, who are not so inclined as to control the time and place and manner of our demise, leave it in the hands of God, for Him to determine or allow our lives to end as seems most fitting. Our life and death are in His most capable hands, and He acts according to His will and His purposes.