Whoever said “live each day as if it were your last” should’ve been a little more clear

We’ve all heard variations on the above quotation. “Live each day as if it were your last” is often followed by something like “because someday it will be”.  The quote appears to have originated with one H. H. “Breaker” Morant, who was an English-born Australian who served in the Second Boer War … but you can read Wikipedia just as well as I can.

I’ve never liked the saying. I don’t hold it in disdain or anything, I just think it needs some clarification. Christians often use the quote in the context of living in the light of eternity and not focusing so much on the temporal. This is fine, but the quote still lacks something. The things that we would do if we KNEW it were our last day are not things that make for a healthy, productive, or even moral life. For instance, if I knew it were my last day I probably wouldn’t go to work. There would be no point. However, I clearly can’t make a philosophy or productive life out of not working and taking every day off. Clearly the Bible indicates that such slackness is not to be tolerated, much less encouraged.

I think the Breaker Morant quote does speak to the nature of fallen man and how the future, whether through hope or fear, moderates our behavior for the better. Back in the late 80s a preacher named Edgar Whisnant released a book titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 88. Turns out he was wrong, but the damage was done. There was no doubt great fear amongst those tricked by his rationale – after all, Christians still disagree on just how much of the tribulation we’ll see … and who wants to take that chance. Apparently they never read “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt 24:36). There was another effect though. Quite a few folks, upon hearing his predictions, went out and ran up rather large credit card debts. The hope, I suppose, was that the Lord would return and thereby cancel the debt. Apparently they never read “The wicked borrows but does not pay back” (Psalm 37:21) or “depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). [Maybe the rapture will happen ... and maybe you ain't goin'.]

My point is that fear of tomorrow helped to moderate behavior; if nothing more than fear of how much overtime I’ll have to work to pay for all the things I just bought. Maybe we need a little more of that in our lives … and government.

For quite some time our government has been spending more money than it takes in. The current national debt stands at just under $12.7 TRILLION (that just over $42,000 for every person). Unfunded liabilities are actually much higher than this, but the numbers are already large enough to make the point. This isn’t 1988 though. If you plow through more money than you have on unsecured credit cards and then die unceremoniously, the credit card company is left holding the bag. They may not like it, but the current US laws don’t give them enough leeway to rally the troops and go after the living relatives. With sovereign debt it’s a little different.

The government has borrowed money, some from the citizens and some from foreigners, and spent it today. The government doesn’t just die and go away though. After all, “the government” that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people” really IS the people (in some sense). Unless the federal government, and the US in general dissolves, the debt will have to be repaid. By who? Probably your kids or grandkids, but it can’t go on forever.

Progressivism really hasn’t been kind to us. The economic philosophies of John Maynard Keynes have said “spend the future now” – and we have been only too willing to oblige. The consequences have been dramatic, and I suspect will be disastrous. For the Baby-Boomers out there, the whole Keynsian house of cars appears ready to crash on your head. The removal of consequences and “free love now” hasn’t staved off “the bill” forever. It turns out the money you had saved up for retirement in the stock market (or other assets) may not be worth as much as you thought. That house “nest-egg” has also taken a big hit. Medicaid is facing significant cuts under “Obamacare” – not to mention the fear of future “death panels” to decide when to cut losses on that thing you called “life”. Now we hear that Social Security is taking in less than it will pay out THIS YEAR … I assure you, cuts are coming. Borrowing from tomorrow to “live each day is if it were your last” ultimately brings collapse; even the mighty United States of America isn’t free from this.

But for the Boomers and the rest of us there is still hope. Let the hearts of the fathers be turned to the children (see Malachi 4:6). Let us live life not trying to get away with it, but trying to make it the kind of place we want to give to our kids. So instead of Breaker Morant saying “live each day as if it were your last … and someday you’ll be right” – I say “live each day as though it matters, because it always does.”

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2 Responses to Whoever said “live each day as if it were your last” should’ve been a little more clear

  1. Jessee says:

    It’s probably trite to comment on a typo, but the mental image of a “Keynsian house of cars” crashing on my head made me chuckle. I miss our lunch time conversations – no matter how taboo discussing religion & politics with co-workers might be.

  2. Torn Halves says:

    Now that Steve Jobs has died there is a sudden flurry of writing praising his ‘philosophy’. I’ve just been looking for his philosophy, found his 2005 speech to Stanford University graduates, and see that a major plank is the Morant quote you discuss here.

    You are right that normal life would grind to a halt if anyone seriously tried to live each day as if it really were their last. I guess the import of the ‘philosophy’, though, is slightly different. The idea is to live YOUR life – don’t live for other people, do what you want to do as much as possible. Isn’t it just a hymn to egoism?

    I like your rewriting at the end of your post. Let me suggest an alternative (also impossible in practice if taken literally): “Live each day as if it were your lover’s last.”

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