“Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
Ecclesiastes 12:7 NKJV
Air traffic controllers are supposed to ask standard questions of pilots experiencing in-flight emergencies. You could guess them if you thought about it; they’re mostly common sense questions. What is the nature of the emergency? What are the pilot’s intentions? How much fuel remains? Here’s an interesting one: How many souls are on board?
When I was a brand spanking new controller, the old guys explained the phrasing of that last question by asking me a different question: What if the aircraft is transporting cadavers? Indeed. Search and rescue teams need to know how many living people were on the airplane.
Whatever our spiritual or religious leanings, or lack thereof, we probably can agree that, when everything is said and done, there will have been a definitive number of persons who lived on earth. You may believe the earth will end in a meltdown of global warming. Or a catastrophic collision with a meteor. Or a nuclear apocalypse. Or, like me, you may believe a trumpet will sound in the spiritual realm, after which this world will be folded and put away like a worn thin coat. Regardless of how it happens, our collective intuition tells us there is, in fact, an end to all this. At some moment near the final moment, the last baby will be born and thereby complete the count of souls on board.
Where do all these people come from, and where do they go? Everybody knows Christians believe people continue to exist as individuals after death. We believe this because of Scriptures like Romans 14:11-12, “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
We don’t talk much about where we came from, at least not in the circles I frequent, but I started thinking about it after my last post. At some point after a human sperm burrows into a human egg, a human soul enters the physical world. I don’t know the state souls exist in while they wait in the wings for their turns on stage. Frankly, I don’t think anyone knows. “God has made everything beautiful in its time. Also he has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NKJV) But surely each of us existed in some state or other before we appeared on earth, even if only as an intention of our creator. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
It’s harder to lump people together in light of each one’s eternalness and singularity. It’s harder to think of them as random. I venture to say it’s harder to think of others as different because we all came from the same place, and we’re returning to the same place. Turns out the old joke is true: “You’re unique. Just like everybody else.”
Death happens every hour of every day, yet despite its commonness, I believe the Lord feels every single death as if it were the only one. Because for that person, it is. The psalmist said, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:5) Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
Don’t be afraid. We are known.