When you get to the end of this post, a minute or so will have passed. The time that it took you to read the post will be time that has gone, time that has, in a sense, died. If we ever think of death at all, we think of what will hopefully be some point in the very distant future. We rarely think of death as something that is close at hand, as close as the present moment itself. Decades come and go, years pass by, hours melt into the past, minutes and seconds disappear – all of them dead and gone. And nothing can stop this endless coming and going, this ceaseless arriving and departing.
No magician can bring back the past and make it live again; no sorcerer can prevent the future from arriving and, one day, one hour, one second, from bringing with it the angel of death to end your life. The Quran describes how those who deny the existence of the hereafter will be filled with terror as death approaches. Their faces will be full of fear as their soul comes up into their throats and their ‘legs will be twisted around each other’.
How are we to understand this strange verse? One possible meaning is this. Our legs are what usually support us, but on that day, those who deny the existence of the hereafter will find that their usual sources of support will desert them. For an unbeliever, the main source of support is the illusion that it is the human self that is sovereign and owner of its own existence and destiny. On that frightful day, no such illusion will be of any help whatsoever.
We should not postpone our meeting with death. We should see each day as a whole life that ends when we sleep, and we should treat it accordingly. We should see each hour, each minute, each moment as a period of examination which will ‘die’ and then be judged. We should see our whole life as a collection of moments that arrive and then depart, with each one judged as to how we dealt with the responsibility of being alive, and being a servant, at that very moment, and at each of the moments that make up our lives.