Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic The Cost of Discipleship, lived what he wrote: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.” Bonhoeffer lived under the dictatorial hobnailed boot of Adolf Hitler. As a Christian minister, Bonhoeffer wanted peace. But as a Christian minister, Bonhoeffer also knew he must stop evil. Bonhoeffer’s numerous attempts at ending Hitler’s life, ended his own two weeks prior to the Allied liberation. It was Dietrich’s commitment to life’s purpose, that brought his life to an end.
In 1980 Czeslaw Milosz won the Nobel Prize for poetry. In his acceptance speech, Milosz spoke about the importance of literary freedom against the slavery imposed by earthly dictators. Reading the speech recently, I was reminded why Milosz was such a believer in reality: he, like Bonhoeffer, had lived through the horrors of World War II. Here is the line that struck me hardest: “Those who are alive receive a mandate from those who are silent forever.”
Some wonder why I focus so much on death as a reason for life. Ecclesiastes 9 says “better a live dog than a dead lion.” Solomon meant the dog—despised in his culture—was better off than the esteemed animal, the lion. Socrates’ agreed. Socrates believed that philosophy is really about learning how to die. We are reminded that our end is connected to our beginning. We are cognizant of the fact that time is valuable, never to be “killed” or wasted. We think about Jesus’ statement that if a seed dies, it reproduces one hundred times over. We are connected again to Milosz’ insight that we owe a debt to those who have gone before and those who will follow. The end of one life may be the beginning of many others.
A few years ago my pastor asked me to participate in a teaching dialogue. I was asked why my vocation as an educator was important. I declared my belief that the education of young people was imperative because of our impending death. I am compelled to read, study, think, write, and teach because my voice carries the voices of others to the next generation. Czeslaw Milosz said our lives should be lived as a debt to the dead. Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave his life so that other lives might be saved. Solomon in Ecclesiastes offers these compelling lines: “I know that there is nothing better for people, than to be happy and do good while they live—this is the gift of God. For God will call the past into account.” In the end, I believe the schoolyard receives its orders from the graveyard. For Moody Radio, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.
Far from morbid, Mark remembers his death-day on his birth-day for the sake of focus on here and now, for there and then. Moody Radio will broadcast this commentary during the winter of 2011.