You’ve all heard this expression in one form or another: “Life is hard, and then you die.” I would like to point out a different perspective from a familiar Bible passage.
[A Psalm of David.]
The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Note the last verse and contrast it with the our current saying:
“Life is hard.”
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
“Then you die.”
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
David had a view different from that which is common in our cynical world today. Because he had a divine shepherd he knew that his experience would be one of goodness and mercy. If you read about David’s life in Samuel and Kings and Chronicles, you’ll see that his life wasn’t always rosy. He had to hide in caves from King Saul who was trying to kill him, his own son Absalom rebelled against him and tried to steal his kingdom, and because of David’s own sin his little baby boy died. Even in all this he knew that the Lord his shepherd was guiding everything in goodness and mercy. And where was it all leading? David knew his own death would only bring him to an even better place, to be right at home in the house of the Lord, forever. It seems to me that what David had is much better than anything contemporary society has to offer.
But here’s a detail that is not readily apparent. (This is the Bible geek part.) The form of these two phrases includes a construction that is no longer in general use. Remember your grammar lessons? “I am; we are; you are; he, she, or it is; they are.” “I shall; we shall; you will; he, she, or it will; they will.” The second conjugation is the way to express an event or action that is going to take place in the future without any emphasis, though we seldom use the word “shall” any more. However, if you want to emphasize that the event will certainly take place by deliberate action, you reverse the conjugation: “I will; we will; you shall; he, she, or it shall; they shall.”
To illustrate the difference, here’s a (perhaps a bit grisly) example. Imagine two people on the edge of a bridge. One is hanging on, about to fall off, and the other is a BASE jumper with a parachute. The first person would say, “I shall fall, no one will save me!” It is a description of what is about to happen as a matter of course. The BASE jumper would say, “I will jump, no one shall stop me.” This is a statement of intention, of the certainty that he will make the event come to pass.
David doesn’t say that goodness and mercy WILL follow him, he says that they SHALL follow him, without any doubt. In the same way he is certain about what comes after this life is over. He doesn’t say “I SHALL” dwell in the house of the Lord, he says “I WILL” dwell in the house of the Lord forever. How does he know this? Because (see verse 1 in the psalm) he has the Lord as his shepherd.
I have come to understand David’s view of life and eternity. God wants everyone to be certain of eternal life like David was. “[God] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Tim 2:4-6)” Each of us has the opportunity to choose between the two sayings. Jesus Christ died on the cross and was raised from the dead and is now seated in Heaven. Anyone can accept him and the work that he has done and be delivered from the literal “dead end” of their own sin and from the indifference of the world around us, and instead “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
I have a Shepherd, one I love so well.
How He has blessed me tongue can never tell.
On the cross He suffered, shed His blood and died,
That I might ever in His love abide.
Following Jesus ever day by day.
Nothing can harm me when He leads the way.
Darkness or sunshine, whate’er befall,
Jesus the Shepherd is my all-in-all!