Jimmy Buffett’s cause of death revealed: A reflection on mortality

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Jimmy Buffett’s cause of death revealed: A Labor Day reflection on mortality and transcendent joy

September 4, 2023 -

Jimmy Buffett performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Jimmy Buffett performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Jimmy Buffett performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Jimmy Buffett, a singer, songwriter, best-selling author, and entrepreneur whom the New York Times called the “roguish bard of island escapism,” died Friday at the age of seventy-six. His website disclosed that he had been battling Merkel cell skin cancer for four years. His is the most recent name on a long list of musicians who have died in 2023.

Sarah Young, author of the bestselling Jesus Calling devotional, died on August 31 after suffering for years from various illnesses. Comedian Joan Rivers is being remembered today, the anniversary of her death in 2014. And historians tell us that the Western Roman Empire fell on this day in AD 476 when Romulus Augustus was deposed by Odoacer, a German Barbarian who proclaimed himself king of Italy.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on these stories in light of today’s Labor Day holiday.

“In the Lord your labor is not in vain”

Terror management theory posits that humans are inherently aware of our mortality, which triggers a fundamental fear of death and causes us to seek ways to transcend mortality, often through literal or symbolic immortality. Consequently, “immortality projects” such as the Egyptian pyramids dot the annals of history.

Novelist Chuck Palahniuk claimed, “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”

The biblical worldview endorses such “projects” when they are completed for God’s glory and the advancement of his kingdom. Consider Revelation 14:13: “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”

In this sense, I write The Daily Article each morning in the hope that something I say will be used by the Spirit to touch someone in eternal ways. I’m confident that you share my aspiration that your work in this world will bear transcendent significance. Scripture encourages this hope: “My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

“Joy was the prevailing feature of his own mind”

Perhaps you’ve heard the complaint that someone is “so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good.” C. S. Lewis defamed such defamation with this famous observation in Mere Christianity:

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you will get neither.

We appreciate his sentiment and admire the power of its juxtapositions, but why is it true?

Let’s consider William Wilberforce, the leader of those English evangelicals who “abolished the slave trade.” His belief in heaven empowered his work on earth in three ways we should emulate today.

One: He believed that humans outlive this world.

Wilberforce’s Christian faith convinced him that Africans were made in God’s image and thus people of dignity and eternal significance. As a result, he focused tirelessly on freeing slaves who could never vote for him or repay his sacrifice.

Two: He knew that his resources were a means to a greater end.

Wilberforce was gripped by the sense that “God Almighty has placed before me two great offices: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” Consequently, he used his wealth and political platform as tools for these callings to advance God’s kingdom.

Three: He lived in the joyous certainty that his deeds would outlive him.

Christian History Institute reports that Wilberforce suffered from “weak and painful eyes, a stomach prone to colitis, and a body that for many years had to be held upright by a crude metal frame.” However, an acquaintance wrote of him: “By the tones of his voice and expression of his countenance he showed that joy was the prevailing feature of his own mind, joy springing from entireness of trust in the Savior’s merits and from love to God and man.”

The difference between dating and marriage

Now it’s our turn. We can respond to our mortality with “immortality projects” intended to cause this world to remember us when we are gone, or we can choose to use the time we have in this life to serve an eternal cause and kingdom whether this world remembers us or not.

I encourage you to choose the latter on this Labor Day, confident that “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Hebrews 6:10). To the contrary, he is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Consider your decision this way. I was talking recently with a new friend who observed that many Christians are “dating” Jesus when they should be married to him. The difference is significant.

When we date someone, we see them as they fit into our schedules and to the degree that we find them attractive. They are a means to our ends, so to speak. When we marry them, they (should) become the focus of our lives under Christ. We are committed to our covenant with them whether we are with them or not. We seek their happiness ahead of our own and strive to meet their needs even at the expense of ours.

The result is a transforming relationship that outlives this world with significance for all eternity.

Would Jesus say you are “dating” him today?

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