Paul Azinger is one of the truly great golfers of the past 25 years. Paul is also one of the finest Christians who make their living in that profession. Following his 1995 win at the Memorial, Azinger was at the top of his game. Then he learned he had cancer. He later wrote in his personal testimony:
“The shock was still ringing. Here I am, 33 years old. Fairly bulletproof. Suddenly that wasn’t the case. The next thing I know, I’m in an x-ray room lying on an ice cold table, shivering from nervousness.
It was an awful feeling.
As I lay there while the technician adjusted the machines, a genuine feeling of fear came upon me—I could die from cancer. But then another reality hit me even harder—I’m going to die eventually anyway. Whether from cancer or something else, I’m definitely going to die. It’s just a question of when.
In that same moment, something Larry Moody, the man who leads our Bible study on the PGA Tour, has said to me many times came to mind: “Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying, trying to get to the land of the living.”
My major championship, my ten victories before that, everything had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live.” (You can read Azinger’s full testimony at this link.)
I suspect that Moody was quoting the great Puritan preacher John Owen. When John Owen, the great Puritan, lay on his deathbed, his secretary wrote in his name to a friend, “I am still in the land of the living.” “Stop,” said Owen. “Change that and say, ‘I am yet in the land of the dying, but I hope soon to be in the land of the living.”
Jesus received word that his friend Lazarus lay dying, Oddly, Jesus did not rush to his death bed, but delayed and got to Lazarus’ home in Bethany after Lazarus had died and been buried. The Gospel of John records his encounter with Lazarus’ sister Martha, “Lord, I know if you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.”
23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Do Christians really believe this?
That’s a good question and the answer is YES.
Two popular views of death in our postmodern culture is that death is a cycle of reincarnation or death is simply annihilation. The former can be a sort of spiritual Ground Hog Day depending on whether your first life was worthwhile and where you land in the next. The latter says that this life is all there is and then it’s over. Both views are predicated on the belief that this life on Planet Earth for our appointed time is the most or best we can expect. Except this is the land of the dying, where the cycle of dying remains unbroken and where the pain of death ever threatens our peace and the fear of death often defines our life choices,
Christians believe that you only begin to live when your life is connected to the Author of Life and that nothing can separate you from Him. Even physical death is not the end but the beginning. And because death is not the end, one lives this life now with more purpose, peace and power.
CS Lewis was once asked if he thought Christians were so heavenly-minded that they were no earthly good. His response was that “it was because they were so heavenly-minded they were of so much earthly good.”
It is in the land of the dying that the work of the living has so much impact. The work of the living speaks powerfully to the land of the dying that there is more than the sorrow, pain, suffering, brokeness, defeat that is so much a part of earthly existence. The work of the living in the land of the dying teaches the dying how to truly, really, meaningful live.