The idea of a “bucket list” was popularized by the 2007 film, “The Bucket List.” It’s a list of things to do and places to go before you die, i.e., “kick the bucket.” For example, I would love to visit Alaska, a state extolled for its transcendent natural beauty, but one I have only seen in pictures.
I should, however, clarify that I have very little to complain about concerning the life experiences enjoyed and amazing places seen. By God’s grace, I’ve experienced the magnificent majesty of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park, enjoyed the beaches of Southern California, Bali, and Phuket, trod the Great Wall of China, eaten armadillo in the jungles of Bolivia, visited the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, wandered the north woods of the upper Midwest, paddled in the crystal clear fault lakes of the Canadian boundary waters, seen the corals of the Great Barrier Reef, swam in the bracing cold of the Great Lakes, seen the Holy Land, the Coliseum in Rome, the Tower of London, the ancient ruins of the Seven Churches in the book of Revelation . . . . The list could go on, and yet, I’ve still never been to many breathtakingly beautiful places in Europe, Africa, Russia, New Zealand, or even outer space. Given my age and income level, it’s likely I won’t see most (if not all) of them before I die.
Even if I had the time and money, however, the sheer size and majesty of this world (not to mention the universe), would make it extremely hard to “see and do it all” in a single lifetime. Seeing the obsessive passion with which some people create and pursue the fulfillment of their bucket lists, I can’t help but wonder if certain assumptions lie beneath the fervor to see and experience as much of the world as possible before death.
Probably the primary motivation is that since “you only live once” (which is true), you can only enjoy what this world has to offer before you die (which is false). The materialist assumption that lies behind the drive to do everything possible before death suggests that once you die, you simply no longer exist. We should therefore “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). But if we are made for eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and have trusted in Christ, we can confidently anticipate a gloriously indescribable future beyond this fleeting life that will be spent forever in a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21-22). Even the most breath-taking experiences we can muster in this passing life are mere faint and shifting shadows compared to the unimaginable magnificence of the life that is to come.
Please don’t misunderstand me. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see the many splendors of this world that God has made. He has, after all, created it to reflect His own majestic beauty and bountiful wisdom. The heavens really do declare His glory (Psalm 19:1). Creation is a dim but very real reflection of the glory of our God and Maker, making it a many-splendored thing, worthy to be explored and experienced with awe and gratitude.
The drive to both make and complete a bucket list, however, can cause us to forget that as wonderful and beautiful as the things of creation are, they ultimately pale in comparison to what we will know and experience in eternity. Even if you never fulfill your wanderlust, even if you never have all the thrills and experiences that our existential age promotes as essential for fulfillment (you assuredly will not), it is a profound and concrete comfort to know that these longings are merely meant to remind us that we are ultimately made for another (and magnificently better) world.
As C. S. Lewis so beautifully put it in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably, earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
Here is how John describes this magnificent world in Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”
I’m putting this destination, accessible through faith in Christ alone, in the pole position of my bucket list. And thanks to Jesus, when I finally do kick the bucket, it’s a place I will never have to worry about missing out on. After all, He will be there in all His unmasked glory, and I will finally see Him face to face.
Thank you for this wonderful reflection. I have begun memorizing Revelation 21, and your essay adds an exclamation point to this. The best is surely yet to come!
I have been praying for you and your wife, Barbara for years and your children. I am a member at Trinity. My friend Donna Walker sent me an update about praying for your father with cancer. I prayed for you both this morning, before getting this update. Congrats on the new granddaughter! I will be praying more specifically and thank you for this wonderful blog that was included in your email to Donna. BLESSINGS and Prayers!