While driving a few years ago, my wife and I saw placards posted along the roadside, on fences, walls, hedges and trees: "PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD!" It gave us a scary feeling, a sense of impending doom. We began to feel that at any moment the heavens might be rolled together like a scroll; the dead might rise from their graves, and we should all be brought to judgment for our sins. So we were being urged to put our affairs in order while there was yet time, and "Prepare to meet our God!"
Now, these fundamentalist ideas were utterly alien to my own outlook. They are based on a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, whereas I have been taught always to try to understand it spiritually. My own conviction is that the so-called Last Judgment has already taken place! It was staged in the Spiritual World; we are living now in its aftermath. The Old Order is being swept away, while the New Heaven and the New Earth are being formed around us. God is not about to bring the world to an end by a universal cataclysm. To look for such an externalistic fulfilment of the Apocalypse is surely naive! We are already in the NEW AGE.
And yet . . . there is a sense in which the Fundamentalists are right. Something is going to happen, during the next hundred years or so, which will kill off every man, woman and child now living on this earth. "Naturally," you will say. Yes, quite naturally! There will not be an instantaneous holocaust exterminating the human race. We shall not "all go together when we go," as the song had. But we shall all go, nevertheless! And, since we have no idea when our personal end will be, the situation as far as we are concerned is much the same as with the Southern Baptists in Kentucky, who are expecting Doomsday at any moment. And their warning and advice are absolutely valid. "PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD!"
Your soul may be required of you tonight. Or maybe next week, or next year or in ten, twenty, or thirty years' time. Certainly within a hundred years from now, every man, woman and child now living on the earth will have had his or her personal Doomsday. The time will inevitably come when a funeral will be arranged, just for you! You will be its mute focus. Crowds will probably come to pay their respects, and everyone will be weeping for you. Then they will divide up your property (throwing a lot of it away) and your presence will no longer be here. Where will you be then? In the Spiritual World. Are you prepared for that traumatic experience? We all ought to be, for we know neither the day nor the hour when the call will come.
I am not recommending that we should be everlastingly stocktaking and totting up the balance sheet, ready for the Great Event of our death. Certain projects in which we are involved will always be in process of maturing. There will always be "something in the oven," so to speak. We ought to assume that we shall be on earth for a great many more years, otherwise no longterm planning will be possible. Yet, a realization that we might be called hence at any moment, gives a wholesome lightness to it all. It prevents us from taking ourselves too seriously. We are none of us indispensable! Any job we are doing now could be carried on by someone else. Perhaps not as we are doing it (maybe better)! Anyway, we can trust that the Lord will provide an adequate substitute for us, if the job needs doing. Have no worry or fears for the future! The worst that can happen is death, and that will come eventually anyway. Prepare yourself for it aright, and the prospect will no longer disturb you. Death should be regarded as a great and exciting adventure. You should be able to say, with a real sense of freedom and trust, "Lord, I'm ready whenever you want me over there! I have no ties in this world which are so strong that I can't break them; nothing is so valuable to me that I can't give it up, anytime you say! Call me when you like; I'm ready!"
Actually, there is no such thing as Death. It is only a slipping over of consciousness to another phase of life. We are assured that the transition is so smooth, and there is such continuity, that many people, when they pass over and wake up on the other side, do not realize at first that the change has taken place. They have to be informed that they are now in the Spiritual Realm. The newly-awakened spirit judges himself—and this quite unconsciously, as his inner, secret loves and motivations begin to assert themselves and take over control of his life. This is his personal "Last Judgment," and he is quite unaware that it is taking place. It carries him inescapably to his final abode, in a region of the Spiritual World where there are others like himself. "Birds of a feather flock together."
In what special sense can we say, then, that Death is "meeting one's God?" Would it not be truer to say that Death is "meeting one's self?" Can you face up to meeting yourself—the self that is really you? Death will compel you to do so, whether you like it or not. "As the tree falls, so it lies." As you are inwardly when you die, so you will be in the eternal world. My advice to the dying, therefore, would not be "Prepare to meet your God," but "Prepare to meet yourself." We are at the beginning of our eternity already. Obviously there are, and will be, stages in our growth and development. The death of our physical bodies will signalize a big and important stage—one in which we shall have a clearer knowledge of ourselves as we really are. It will be in that sense our Doomsday. But death will not necessarily bring us any closer to God. At funerals we say sentimentally of the deceased that they are "with Jesus," or that the Lord has taken them to himself. But in fact death effects no basic change in a person's relationship with God. Only in the degree that we have "met God" here and now, in this earth-life, shall we meet him in the world beyond. If we turn our backs on him in this life, we shall run away from him after death! We shall experience an even greater alienation from him and opposition to him. On the other hand, if in our inmost hearts we are close to him here and now, loving the good and the true, and striving to do his work on earth, then after death our relationship with him will become more open, more joyful and personal, because we shall then be living on the plane of the interiors.
"Prepare to meet your God!" Yes! A hundred times Yes! But meet him here and now! If you don't, there will be little chance of your getting to know him beyond the grave. Meeting with God is a matter of life, not death. Eternal life? Of course! But eternal life starts here on earth; we are in it already.
How often do we find people miserable, frustrated, twisted up with fears and guilt and nervous tensions, simply because they are not prepared to meet with God! They realize that they will have to remove their ego from the central place if they are to get into personal involvement with him—and this they are utterly unwilling to do. So they erect a WALL between themselves and the Lord, which they are continually bumping against. They mill round and round on their side of the wall, chewing over some unhappy incident in which they came out badly, justifying themselves, struggling to lay the blame on someone else . . . oh, I have done it myself; we all have! There is a murky region in our minds, shut away from God, where the powers of evil are for ever at work, causing confusion and torment. And we go raking over the dirt and rubbish—our failures, our inadequacies, our indignation, our self-justification, our hurts, annoyances, grudges . . . well, it stands to reason that if we die while we are like this, things are going to be far worse for us in the Spiritual World, where our interiors will be open for all to see. We shall have nowhere to hide from them.
Yet there is such a simple way to dispel these murky thoughts and feelings. It can be done in a moment, if we wish. Just remove that wall between you and God! You put it there; you can break it down. God didn't put it there! He is ever ready and longing to meet with you. You don't even have to make an appointment ahead! Like the father of the prodigal son, he is waiting for you to come. "When the son was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him."
If you have not yet experienced such a Doomsday, face up to it and arrange for it at once, even though it may mean a redirection of your life, the dethronement of Self and the placing of the Lord on the throne. It needs some courage. Worse than going to the dentist, or to the hospital for surgery. But the outcome is not in doubt.
Dare to meet your God! One meeting will doubtless lead to others as a new intimacy is established. You may find that you have to replan your daily routine to make time for such meetings—regular meetings: periods of prayer which will bring increasing power into your daily living. You will find you are giving more and more attention to his service, and less and less to your own interests and the pleasures of the world. He will become your King; and where he rules is the Kingdom of Heaven. Once you are securely in his kingdom, death will bring nothing but an unfolding of the glory and splendour and beauty of that kingdom, which before was rather hidden beneath the commitments and responsibilities and other diversions of your worldly life, and the roles you play in your daily contacts.
"O Death, where is your sting?" Death has no sting! It will be a wonderful adventure, something we can look forward to with excited anticipation, a joyous reunion with those who have gone before—the gathering together of all whom we have loved, and others whom we shall love to eternity. But, as we have seen, death will not necessarily bring us any closer to God. We must meet him in this world, in the here-and-now; we must let him enfold us, control us, mould us into his image and likeness. Once we have met him in this fullest sense, all will be well with us. We shall "trust in him, commit our ways to him, and rest in him." Then, whether we die today or in fifty years' time, whether from sickness or senility or the blast of an atom bomb, will make no difference; for we shall have been with him all the time.
"Here I am, Lord! Call me onwards when you wish! I'm ready!" Can you say that?