The Dash Between the Dates
Bible Reading: 2 Timothy 4
Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
On a tombstone in a graveyard, you will probably find a symbol, a short and simple line, between two dates. The dates, on the left and on the right, mark the year of the beginning and end of one’s life. The “in-between” part—the life lived—is all summed up and represented to us by a dash.
The dash bears more weight than it should. A simple short line can hardly suffice to tell the story of all that transpired in the life of a person. Did they die young or old? The dates tell that story. But the tombstone and the dash say little or nothing about the dead person’s character or deeds.
Our omniscient Creator knows both about the dates and that which lies in-between (Psalm 139:16). Where we see a dash, he sees and knows a person. A person created by Him to know and love Him. He has “set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In the heart of each rebel sinner lies a God-given desire to be reconciled to Him.
Knowing nothing about the life of a person, we still know something about them. All of us were born sinners. We’ve all missed the mark and have fallen short. We’ve failed to measure up to God’s holy standard (Romans 3:23). The death date on the tombstone testifies to the reality— “death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
The date on the left speaks to the year of one’s birth, but another birthday can work to radically alter the character and eternal trajectory of a life. Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” 1 Timothy 1:15) and died “for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). To those who receive Him, He gives “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). The new birth works a wonderful transformation in one’s identity, life, and eternal destination. Jesus can make something beautiful of the dash between the dates.
The death date on the tombstone does not mark the end. “An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds, to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Those who die knowing Jesus will spend eternity with Him. Those who don’t will “pay the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Having assurance of heaven, the believer in Christ is nonetheless concerned for the character of what lies within the “dash between the dates.” “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). On that day, the “quality of each man’s work” will be revealed with fire and he will accordingly either suffer loss or receive reward (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). What is done here matters there.
Paul’s instructions to Timothy speak to such matters: “Instruct them (“those who are rich in this present world”; 1 Timothy 6:17) to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Our “dash” should be filled with such things. Missionary C. T. Studd put it this way:
“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
What’s in your dash?