Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Last Lecture: Life or Lie?

Soon after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and being given months to live, 47-year-old Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, gave a stirring speech to his students in what soon became famously coined as, "The Last Lecture." The lecture went viral. Dr. Pausch appeared on Oprah to deliver a condensed version of his lecture before millions of viewers. And during his remaining months, he co-authored a best-selling book based on his life-lessons, which involved a discussion of the importance of childhood dreams and how to go about achieving them as one grows older.

You likely remember Dr. Pausch from a few years ago. And perhaps you think of him as a brave, inspiring, and likable man, who helped many people live life to the fullest and appreciate more deeply the time they have with their loved ones. He was certainly successful in encouraging us all to stop sweating the small stuff, and for that there is something to be said.

But, tragically, the truth is this: Dr. Pausch missed the point. In fact, he didn't even come close to it.

As the New York Times lightheartedly put it,
Dr. Pausch gave practical advice in his lecture, avoiding spiritual and religious matters. He did, however, mention that he experienced a near-deathbed conversion: he switched and bought a Macintosh computer.
While many may have been inspired by the head-on, practical, and good-humored way in which Dr. Pausch faced his imminent death, listening to his lecture sent chills down my spine. It wasn't that I didn't like him. I liked him a lot. And that made it even worse. For all I could think as I listened to him talk was, where is God? Yet, surprisingly many Christians joined in the widespread acclamation of Dr. Pausch, embracing his positive outlook, sharing his video online, and buying his book.

Recently, as I awaited the results of a biopsy myself—results that might very well have meant I could be facing something similar to Dr. Pausch—I thought of The Last Lecture. And I thought of what type of lecture I might give if I were in the same boat. What would I want the world to know? What wisdom would I want to impart to my children?

The immediate answer was black-and-white, pure and simple. It was uncompromisingly, unwaveringly this: I would want them to receive in their hearts and know in their minds the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the face of death, nothing else ultimately matters. No fleeting family moments. No fun memories of times gone by. No earthly fulfillment of childhood dreams. As harsh as it may sound, no worldly experiences or relationships, however valuable to us, will truly matter when it comes to that final moment we will all face at the point of death. Nothing other than our experience of, and relationship with, God, that is. For only He can save us from eternal death. And that's the bottom line.

Dr. Pausch's Last Lecture was full of nice ideas and self-help tips. It was a lesson in memory-making and dream-chasing. It paid homage to family values. And it gave a good-natured nod to the wholesome things in life. But what Dr. Pausch's lecture lacked was any message of salvation. In other words, it lacked Jesus. And if we, as Christians, believe that Jesus is the only way, the truth, and the life, why would we ever settle for anything less?

Satan cannot destroy the gospel, but he'll do his darnedest to distract us from it. Remember that the enemy comes disguised as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). And it's often through life's pleasantries which he operates most insidiously. He can tempt us to turn feel-good moments and family relationships into our religion, for example. These are not bad things. In fact, they can be very good things! But if they become ultimate things, they become idols that we worship in place of God. Idols that cannot save us.

This is not to say that we shouldn't experience joy in our lives, invest purposefully in our relationships, pursue God-ordained goals, and cherish time with our loved ones. But the deadly lie of The Last Lecture is that life is all about living in the fleeting moment and fulfilling earthly dreams. And therein lies the fatal mistake.

You might also remember the more recent story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old newlywed who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and subsequently elected to be euthanized last year under the state of Oregon's Death With Dignity law. Before her death, Brittany told People magazine, "There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die. I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease, but there's not." Despite being implored by many Christians to reconsider, the worldly affirmation she received evidently won out. She was widely lauded as a courageous pioneer in the fight for the right to die with "dignity." And now other state legislators are introducing bills to let the terminally ill end their lives. (Let's pray that our country doesn't go in the same direction as several of those in Europe, like Belgium where a man was recently euthanized after a botched sex-change operation, for example).

The real tragedy is, Brittany Maynard chose death, when she could have had everlasting life.

We cannot know the heart condition of Randy Pausch or Brittany Maynard when they breathed their last breath. And it is absolutely not our place to judge their salvation. What we do know, however, is this: In facing death, they both publicly held to, and promoted, a tragic lie. While Randy Pausch thought he was teaching about life, in actuality, he was preaching death—just like Brittany Maynard was. In essence, The Last Lecture was really The Last Lie—a lie that led Randy Pausch, and many others who listened to him, away from the hope that is in Christ.

One thing is certain for every single person on this planet: we will all die. It could be today, it could be tomorrow. It could be many years from now. But physical death comes to us all. In the face of certain death, then, what will your Last Lecture be about? Hopefully, yours will proclaim everlasting life.


Anonymous said...

Amen! Love to you.

Savannah said...

thank you so much!

Savannah said...

thank you so much!

Martin said...

I just saw his 'last lecture' too, and wished he'd insert a message about Jesus Christ and what He's done for humanity... Alas, I did not see it. Other than that, he was rather inspiring.

Mee Leng Foo said...


Mee Leng Foo said...