The Great and the Small

February 25, 2021

Rush Limbaugh was a towering figure in American culture for decades. He was a conservative radio talk-show host known as one of the most iconic voices of the political right for more than 30 years. His radio program was the top-rated U.S. talk show, syndicated all over America.

Even though he had been battling cancer for some time, Limbaugh was a bigger-than-life figure; disciplined, powerful, and courageous. He pushed forward despite his illness, and few people realized how sick he was. He continued his broadcasts and appearances right up to a few days before he died on February 17 at age 70.

Even though Rush had cancer and had lived for seven decades, thousands and thousands of people expressed shock at his death. Limbaugh seemed too big, too powerful, too in charge to die.

Then on February 23 another cultural icon, golfer Tiger Woods, was driving near Los Angeles, shortly after 7 a.m., when his SUV crossed a median and veered across two lanes of road before hitting a curb, hitting a tree, and landing on its side in the brush. When the news broke, his survival was uncertain, but the severity of his injuries was undeniable. Doctors know that recovery is a long way off, and how well he will regain his athletic abilities is yet unknown. Before the news was released that he would recover, social media was full of shocked and grieving fans saying Tiger couldn’t die—it was impossible that we would lose another larger-than-life figure like Kobe Bryant. Bryant died in a helicopter crash at age 42 on January 26, 2020.

These are the common reactions whenever a person of notoriety and stature suddenly shows us that the fragility of life is true for everyone. Psychologists tell us that when a powerful public figure dies unexpectedly, out of time, or tragically, people tend to react with shock and often extreme grief, especially if they are beloved or admired. For instance, when Princess Diana died as a young mother in a tragic car accident, the news was full of thousands of mourners weeping inconsolably around the world, sending flowers and teddy bears and all kinds of tributes to the palace wall. An infinitesimal amount of those mourners had ever seen her in person, and far fewer knew her. Why would her death trigger such grieving and shock?

Again, psychologists say it is because every time we see someone larger than life with more resources than we could ever accumulate “bite the dust,” another part of our innocence dies. For at least a moment we realize if they die, we are going to die too, and we are mourning our own mortality. Sounds reasonable to me. I spend a large part of my life talking to people who live as though they are invincible.

But God revealed to us through John that death is certain for all of us. The only thing that is uncertain is when. “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12).

The great and the small, the poor and the rich, the powerful and the weak, the famous and the unknown, the good and the bad—everyone will face death. No one has enough resources to escape it. In the United States alone, a relatively healthy country, over 8,000 people die daily. It happens to us all.

God also tells us, “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28).

Most people who have been in church for a while have heard the first part of that message preached in a fearful sort of way—we all are going to die and just as surely as we died, we will appear before God for judgment. That’s vital to know. But the rest of it, which is so hopeful and is such good news, too often gets overlooked. Christ came as a sacrifice for our sins, and when we know Him as Savior we don’t have to fear death. We can eagerly wait for His coming for us, knowing it will be our ultimate salvation from all that is sinful, painful, and wrong.

That’s the best news you can hear—and it’s the news we must be sharing. People are dying around us every day. The worst news is not that a big figure dies tragically, though that is certainly heartbreaking, the worst news is that anyone, great or small, goes into a Christless eternity.

Let’s pray, work, and share to lower that statistic. It’s of eternal importance.