There's a great film from 1999 called The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis as a good and compassionate psychiatrist. It begins with him being shot by one of his psychotic patients. An inauspicious beginning, to be sure, but the movie raises profound questions about life and death. It did very well, globally, and was nominated for six Academy Awards. It's an all-time favorite of mine.
How do we know we're really alive? The vast majority of us - and especially those who suffer from chronic depression - at one time or another feel more dead than alive. If you've experienced divorce, death of a spouse or close relative, or great poverty, you surely know. Many people become addicted to drugs, gambling, violence, or other hazardous behaviors because they only feel alive when they're high or in danger. Some fight their feelings of emptiness by channeling them in socially productive directions; by becoming soldiers, policemen, or firemen.
All important religious scripture tells us that the status quo of human existence is insufficient; a kind of death. Even the renowned atheist and anti-theist philosophers of the 20th Century - like Sartre, Nietzsche, and Marx - say so. The usual pursuits of life are not enough to nourish the soul and spirit. Only in union with God can we be fully alive. Therefore, those who reject the spiritual aspects of life are in fact dying, or are almost dead.
Flirting with disaster is one of the oldest and most well-documented pursuits of man, and is the very soul of literature and great storytelling: Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, or George Washington at Trenton. The desperate roll of the dice, the final battle for a hopeless cause, and the nation brought to ruin for its hubris fill the pages of the Old Testament, Egyptian hieroglyphic papyri, and Homer's tales. The possibility of death is rivaled only by sex as the spice that keeps us glued to a story, fictional or not.
"For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any reward; for the memory of them is forgotten." - Ecclesiastes 9:5
This means that unless you are acutely aware that your life could end in the next hour, and every material thing you think you own will be stripped away forever, you are dead and have no hope of enjoying real life. Essentially, the surprising message of the great religions is live life on the edge, and don't accept mediocrity.
"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." Luke, 9:24
Our real lives are yet to come, in eternity, with God, in a resurrected world of eternal joy, riches, power. Christ came to show us the way, and many millions have seized the prize and gone on to a life that makes this worldly one seem a cheap counterfeit.
"Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!" (Isaiah 26:19)