Metallica Got It Right

     The music of Metallica is generally very loud, often quite fast, and usually rather dark in terms of lyrical content.  At first glance, the particular lyrical line that I'd like to expand upon fits that description accurately, but I think you'll agree that under closer examination, it isn't necessarily negative.
     In a song entitled Frantic, vocalist James Hetfield repeats numerous times the words, "My lifestyle determines my deathstyle."  This is certainly not the only Metallica song that refers to death, but in this case, the reference and some of the accompanying lyrics can give one pause to think.  I believe that in saying this, Hetfield could not have been more correct.
     I will take the risk of supposing that I'm not the only person in the world who has entertained daydreams of personal glory.  I may be somewhat more unusual in admitting that those fancies have sometimes included the circumstances of my own demise.  I don't think I'm altogether alone, though, since there are numerous books and movies that depict long, drawn out scenes of death, and the behaviors of the dying - whether good or bad.  Somebody is considering these scenarios.
     And in my imagination, of course, I always want to die nobly, and to be remembered well after I'm gone.  I suppose it would be a rare person who would fantasize about dying as a coward and being publicly despised and ultimately forgotten; at least I hope so.  Then again, considering some of the tragic events we've had to witness in recent years, I'm not so sure.
     I also admit that I will occasionally read a stranger's obituary in the newspaper, and consider what the writer has to say about the departed.  Many times there is considerable detail about the acts of service, kindness, and personal sacrifice which were done during that person's lifetime.  While people generally tend to be biased in putting their loved ones in the best light, it is likely that many of these stories really do point to a life well lived.
     So what does it take to die well?  Elsewhere on this website, I have discussed what would compel a person to die poorly, specifically when the death is by his own hand.  But what would it take to be able to face a difficult death - perhaps even an unjust death at the hands of others - without fear, but rather with strength and courage?  What would it take to die like the Son of God did?
     "My lifestyle determines my deathstyle."  The reason that Jesus was able to face such a brutal death with such nobility is that his entire life had been lived in exactly same way.  Everything he had done had been in service to God and to others, including his enemies.  He had spent large amounts of time in prayer (and sometimes fasting), including time immediately prior to the torture and crucifixion he knew was to come.  For all of his life, he had been full of blessings, love, and forgiveness; on the cross, he was able to continue to bless, love, and forgive.  No one ever died better, even in Hollywood's most epic blockbusters.
     Christians throughout the centuries have faced similar end-of-life circumstances.  History indicates that most of the original twelve disciples were executed, and Christians are promised persecution today, too.  Even if we aren't deliberately singled out for such a death, we may face an unexpected situation that will end in a terrible way.  I think of the passengers on the airplanes used in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, as well as those people that were in the buildings the planes crashed into.  How many of them were ready for the events of that day?  Would I be prepared, if I found myself in a comparable predicament?  
     Throughout most (if not all) of my life up to this point, I'm sorry to say that the answer to that question has been an unequivocal "no."  I wish I didn't have to confess that fact, but I've considered it carefully, and I know myself.  So it has been on my mind that it's high time to start living a life of self-denial, so that if I ever face the prospect of martyrdom or an act of terror, I will be able to get through it with acceptance rather than with fear.  And in any case, we will all come to our physical end eventually, even if it is at home in our beds.  Will my last breath carry a curse, or a blessing?  
     To take Hetfield's quote one step further, I can say that "my lifestyle determines my after-deathstyle" as well.  Jesus once told a story about ten virgins who awaited a bridegroom (see Matthew 25:1-13).  All of them had lamps for the occasion, but only half of them had put away an extra store of oil to keep their lamps alight.  When the bridegroom arrived, the five who hadn't stocked up had no means to do so at the last minute.  This parable may seem a bit arcane to us, since it involves traditions with which our society is unfamiliar.  But it shouldn't matter too much; the crux of the story is simply that a person ought to be prepared for a sudden ending - and specifically for the Bridegroom's return - at all times.  The five virgins who were not prepared were shut out of the wedding with the words, "Verily I say unto you, I know you not."  And the door never opened again.
     If you or I were to find ourselves on an airplane that's about to go down, or on a ship that will inevitably sink, how would we react?  Even these specific situations have been depicted in the movies, and there are always some characters that have a reserve of courage and peaceful acceptance in their last moments, while others have none and are caught in a hopeless state of panic.  Like the unprepared virgins in the parable, the ones not ready are reduced to a desperate, frantic search for extra "oil", but they search to no avail.  No person can give such a supply to another in that hour; it must come from the Spirit already dwelling inside - the Spirit who was welcomed in beforehand. There will be no substitutionary source.  The thought that any of us might find courage, hope, and a clear conscience in such distressing conditions after having lived a self-centered life is a daydream indeed.  But if we begin today to lead selfless, Godly lives, we will have enough oil for our lamps. 
     Is it time to change your lifestyle, so that you can have a say in your own deathstyle?  Would you rather be at peace when your time comes, or be at the mercy of your fears?  The latter choice would be bad, because that particular kind of fear - the fear of death and what lies beyond - has no mercy at all.  But God has mercy.  A life lived in fear of God will lead to a death died in fear of nothing.  Living with a holy fear of God is the only way to get ready for our final day.  And since that day could come without any advance notice, now is the time to dedicate ourselves to a Son of God-ly lifestyle.