I recently turned 37. I enjoyed a low-key celebration with my family and received a few nice gifts. It was good. But the day came and went, and life soon moved back into a normal routine. Next year, if the Lord wills, I will celebrate my 38th birthday, and hopefully in a similar way.
Birthdays can serve as a reminder of God’s goodness in our lives. When our day arrives, we might take time to reflect on specific ways God has blessed or helped us over the past years, and use such reflection to offer heart-felt praise for his faithfulness. It is fitting to reflect often on God’s mercy, and birthdays can be a special time of remembrance and thanksgiving.
Bucket Lists and the Resurrection
But birthdays also remind us that life is marching in one direction. The death-rate among humans is 100%, and despite the massive efforts of Silicon Valley investors to defeat death, no one can truly escape it.
And if you believe that this life is all there is, and that upon death you simply pass out of conscious existence, it makes sense to do as much as you can before you die. Something like a “bucket list” would be of primary concern because your opportunity to enjoy all the world has to offer may end upon your last heartbeat.
But a bucket list doesn’t fit as well into a Christian worldview, especially when we consider the centrality of the resurrection in Scripture and the Christian tradition. Contemporary Christians, however, are failing to appropriate the doctrine of the resurrection. Randy Alcorn explains,
[T]he “bucket list” mentality–that this life is our only chance to ever enjoy adventure and fun–flies in the face of the biblical teaching of the resurrection [see Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 15:52-53; Philippians 3:20-21]….Despite the centrality of the resurrection in Scripture and church history, many Christians have never been clearly taught its meaning, so they imagine they’ll live forever in a disembodied state. In fact, of Americans who believe in a resurrection of the dead, two-thirds believe they will not have bodies after the resurrection (Happiness, 392).
The ultimate Christian hope is not existence in a disembodied state, although to die and be with Christ at this moment would be gain (Phil 1:21). Yet, even the apostle Paul who longed to be with the Lord looked forward to the resurrection and sensed the incompleteness of his salvation without it (2 Cor 5:1-5). Why such a hope? Because at the resurrection we will receive new bodies in which we will worship and work and play on a new earth for all eternity. Even though most Christians won’t be able join any North Face expeditions in this life, thanks to God’s gift of the resurrection we will never stop exploring.
Say Goodbye to Your Bucket List
What this means practically is that we can say goodbye to our bucket list. The Scripture certainly doesn’t prohibit us from making plans to enjoy certain things before we die. God is good, and he gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17). But neither does Scripture encourage us to channel much of our energy to fulfilling these kinds of desires, or to make such pursuits the main thing of life.
The glory and grace of the resurrection is that it frees us to give our lives to serving Christ and serving others because we don’t have to worry about really missing out on anything. There are a host of legitimate pleasures I would like enjoy before I die: bag a few serious peaks, ski the Swiss Alps, cycle across portions of Italy. I might get to complete one or more of these before I go to be with Jesus. Or I may not. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. If it’s for God’s glory and my eternal happiness, God will make sure I experience it. If not on this earth, then in the new one.
The hope of the resurrection, therefore, delivers us from selfishness. The pursuit of a bucket list can easily take time and energy away from other priorities and encourage us to focus too much on ourselves. But if we are convinced that life on the new earth holds opportunity for unimaginable and unsurpassed enjoyment, we will be able to set aside our grand plans for global travel and adventure and give our lives to serving others. This approach to life may not get you a stunning collection of Instagram photos, but you will please your Master and bring joy to others. And that’s better than 1000 mountain-top selfies any day.