Fear of death ruins life on Earth
I remember the first time I really thought I should have died.

My college roommate, Terry Richards, was driving us home from church down rain-slicked Interstate 95 through Waco, Texas. He was going the speed limit — this once — when we topped a little hill, hit a puddle and our world began turning.

The rotation was slow, yet things were moving appreciably fast, and in less time than it takes to ride one of those amusement park free-fall rides, we came to stop against the freeway side rail.

As we exited the car to place our shaking legs on solid terra firma, we began verbalizing questions, each from our unique perspectives.

Terry was asking things such as: Was his Nova drivable? If not, could we get a tow truck? How am I going to pay for this? Terry was a printer, and his questions often reflected his black-and-white world.

I, too, began to ask questions about what happened. But, as a ministerial student preparing to enter seminary, my questions shifted to another plane.

“Why aren’t we dead?” I asked my startled friend who was down on his knees looking at the bent axle.


I waved my hand toward the busy freeway. “How is it that they all missed us?” I wondered. “It seems like we should have collided with something more substantial than the freeway railing.”

Then I remembered that Bible verse: “It’s appointed unto a man once to die and after this the judgment.”

Was this intended to be our “appointment”? Was there really a chronological time in which people are appointed to die?

Terry dismissed my philosophizing by muttering something about me being a knot head and then pointed toward the gas station where he was headed for a payphone.

When he returned, he brought with him a plan to tow the car, yet my mind still was in full gear. Did this escape from near death mean God had some kind of huge plan for me and I wasn’t to die yet?

I remember actually wondering whether it was even possible for me to die if God wasn’t ready for me yet. These were the kind of egocentric, college-kid, wonderings that often would cause Terry to say, “It’s fine if you want to be a preacher, but if it’s OK with you, I’ll continue to work for a living.”

If it hadn’t been for Terry’s more commonsense approach, I think I still might be standing on the Waco freeway scratching my head asking myself-existential questions.

Terry’s point, and for a printer he made it quite colorfully: Death is the destination for all living things, but dwelling on it too long will cause us to miss the urgency to live each moment that God gives us.

I’m sure that Terry took a moment to thank God for our safety, but his point was that spending too long contemplating the theological sometimes can make us unfit for life here. As I’ve said in a previous column, too much heavenly mind can make you of no earthly good.

Burkes is a civilian hospital chaplain and an Air Force Guard chaplain. E-mail norris@thechaplain.net or visit www.thechaplain.net.