The Absurdity of Selfishness and the Certainty of Death

Last month, I read When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who developed stage four lung cancer and documented his dying days in a book. More recently, I was introduced to the story of a dying young girl who has a message for us. Her name is Brooklyn, and like Paul Kalanithi, she is putting words to her experience. Her approach to dying is more Christ-centered than Kalanithi’s, but both have given me a profound sense that selfishness is absurd and death is certain.

We live in a self-saturated world. That’s not shocking. We all see it. Every person you meet is on a journey to some destination they think will make life worth it. What stories like Brooklyn’s and Kalanithi’s do is remind us that there is more to life than selfish desires, goals, and dreams. Death is certain, and in light of it, selfishness seems pretty absurd.

Have you ever considered it, the absurdity of selfishness? Think about it. When our sole aim is to make much of ourselves and be made much of by others, death is the ultimate slap in the face. Death destroys everything we hold dear. One of the main reasons we struggle with death is because, as Timothy Keller claims, we focus our attention on “this-world meaning and fulfillment.” It’s absurd. Nothing in this life will last.

In one of her posts, Brooklyn says, “I’m here to tell you not to waste your time binging Neflix, marathoning YouTube, or scrolling through social media. I’m here to tell you that, as a Christian, our constant consideration should be, “If Jesus was sitting here next to me, would He approve of what I’m doing?”” When we live with self-centered aspirations in mind, it’s hard to imagine answering such a question affirmatively.

Paul Kalanithi closes his book by acknowledging the joy others bring to our existence. Notice how he doesn’t exalt in his educational accolades or anything he himself accomplished. Writing to his daughter and knowing she was too young to carry any memory of him into the future, he said, “When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

The dying have much to teach us about living. For when their dreams vanish like a sparrow, perspective gives wings to wisdom.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 90:12. It says, “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Many of us live with a false assurance of health and countless years. We believe we have ample time to explore our wildest dreams and give flight to self-expression. If wisdom is found in numbering our days, I want to begin counting.

One thing is certain: you will die. I will die. So back to Brooklyn’s point, it’s crazy to waste our one precious life watching Netflix, surfing social media, or streaming endless amounts of YouTube.

“Now the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit is life and peace. The mindset of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it is unable to do so.”

– Romans 8:6-7 (CSB)

Death entered the cosmos because Adam and Eve pursued the desires of their flesh. Life reentered it because of Jesus.

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!”

– Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV)

Death is certain and selfishness is absurd. I pray the global church, all of God’s people all over the world, would cease to live selfishly and begin pursuing the cross. The glory of God and the eternal joy of his people is at stake. I’m convinced nothing in life apart from magnifying Christ will matter in the end.

Magnify Christ, friends.

Magnify Christ.

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