“Get busy living or get busy dying,” Andy Dufresne tells Red in the Shawshank Redemption. It’s a great line from a great movie. But like a lot of Hollywood truths, it doesn’t quite translate to the real word. It needs a little tweaking. We’d like to think we’re either living or dying, but it’s not quite that simple. The reality is a little more nuanced. In fact, it’s something of a paradox, a biological one, that we start dying the moment we begin living. I know that’s not what we want to hear, but deterioration and death are built into our bodies. That’s the testimony of Genesis 3, Romans 8, and a host of other texts.
That being so, it’s not about choosing to live or die, it’s something more edgy and raw—it’s about choosing to live while we’re dying. For those who are coping with terminal disease this truth is acutely evident, but even for those in the height of health, it’s equally true. Death isn’t just around us, it’s in us.
What do we do in the face of such invasiveness? How do we choose life in the presence of death? This is vital because not everyone makes this choice. Some give into despair, turning inward and downward. In TSR, this is the path that Brooks, the elderly prison librarian, chooses when he is paroled and struggles to adapt to life on the outside. The other option available to us is the choice Red makes when he is paroled later, living in the same apartment that Brooks did, working the same job, and experiencing the same difficulties. He looks up and sees the beam where Brooks hung himself after carving the words, Brooks was here. Red gets his knife out and carves, So was Red. He was exactly where Brooks was, but he made a different choice. In the midst of death, he made the choice for life and hope. He realized you can do a lot of living while you’re dying.
This choice for hope is real but risky. For Red, it meant violating his parole. For the follower of Jesus, it means choosing what we can’t see over what we can, trusting what we don’t always understand, obeying when we’d rather not, hanging in there when it would be easier to bail out. It means confronting and confessing our sin instead of living in denial, opposing wrong rather than looking the other way, involvement as opposed to apathy. You can add your own items to the list but these are the kinds of things that people with hope will do.
The presence of hope enables us to live while we’re dying. Paul speaks of this when he writes, “in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead . . . On Him we have set our hope,” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10). Later he says, “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you,” (4:11-12).
So death is at work within us as well. While accepting this truth can be difficult, it pays dividends. Life becomes more precious. Faith in God is heightened and reliance upon Him is deepened. Christ can be seen in our lives by others. It is from this perspective that we truly experience salvation in its fullness. We understand and appreciate Paul’s words, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day,” (4:16).
That’s the life of hope. And as Andy told Red, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”