Things worth dying for

Time has a purpose. The meaning of a sentence becomes clear when we put a period at the end of it. The same applies to life. When we talk about things worth dying for, we’re really talking about the things worth living for, the things that give life beauty and meaning. Thinking a little about our mortality puts the world in perspective. It helps us see what matters, and also the foolishness of things that, finally, don’t matter. Your hearse, as my father might say, won’t have a luggage rack. . . .There are two great temptations that I’ve seen people struggle with over my lifetime. The first is to try to create life’s meaning for themselves, which translates in the end to no meaning at all. The second is to live and die for the wrong meaning, the wrong cause, the wrong purpose. The world is full of disguised and treasonous little gods that demand our full attention and in the end betray our deepest longings. But there is only one god, the God of Israel. And only in him, as Augustine said 1,600 years ago, can our hearts finally rest. So we begin. Socrates was one of history’s greatest minds. He’s often seen as the founder of the Western ethical tradition. He said that his philosophizing was best understood as a preparation for dying. It sounds like an odd claim, but it makes perfect sense. He had a passion for truth telling, for the wisdom that comes from it, and for the life of integrity that results. The very word “philosophy” captures his love for truth. It ties philia, the Greek word for “friendship-love,” to sophia, which means “wisdom.” Socrates didn’t “study” wisdom. He pursued it as the framework of his life. He loved it as a friend. Love is demanding. It draws us outside ourselves. The more we love, the greater our willingness to sacrifice. When we know, honestly, what we’re willing to sacrifice for, even to die for, we can see the true nature of our loves. And that tells us who we really are.