Blog » The Grace of God and Death

  • Mar 28th, 2014 at 1:02 PM (CST)
  • By PD
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I'm not a fatalistic person who espouses negativity such as, "We're all dying a little bit each day..." I prefer to look on the sunny side of the road as opposed to the dark clouds on the horizon. Yet, inevitably I am confronted with death on a regular basis. Instead of opting out of funerals, I conduct them. Rather than send a phone call or card to a hospitalized person, I visit them - and see just how close to death they may be. Rather than thinking, "Whatever happened to _____________________ (fill in the name with that elderly person you haven't seen for quite a while)," I have been visiting them over the months, seeing their tenuous grip on health weakening. 

I do not find all this to be discouraging, nor does it engender fear in me. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, we are moving inexorably toward our own death. One of the most meaningful aspects of pastoral ministry is helping people prepare for death. I'm not speaking about the general acceptance of the truths of the faith, that our sins reap physical death and that Christ made atonement such that we who believe in Him can have resurrection to life eternal. Rather, I mean the particular nuances of our own demise.

I had lunch today with a man in his early 40's who has two children under ten years old and one very scared wife; the wife is scared because he has been diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease. Physically this practically assures a physical, and most likely mental, decline of the sort which should not appear until one is in their 80's. This man is handling the news as well as can be expected, as he is strong in faith and understands both the uncertainties of life and that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

I recall a book entitled The School of Dying Graces by Richard Felix, who was president of Azusa Pacific University and whose wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Rallying tens of thousands of people to pray, they were convinced that the "power of prayer" would convince God to miraculously heal her. It didn't happen, but instead she steadily declined and died. They had to readjust their perspecitve toward God's will for them and her approaching death. Though I do not agree with all the theological content, I did find great value in the emphasis on what was termed the grace of letting go. Our sinful flesh desires so much to anchor itself to this world that we have to consciously work at letting go, whether letting go of the stuff we use or letting go emotionally in order to focus on our eternal home.

I find there to be a positive correlation between a strong faith in Jesus and the ability to handle upsetting news about one's health. Those who are close to God, who have for years made it a point to mine the Word of God for wisdom and strength, seem to accept better the news of their illness and death.

Another woman who works a specialized job as part of a "procurement team," is a nurse who cuts up dead bodies and harvests all usable organs for organ donation. In the past short while she had to harvest body parts from a 30-something female suicide and a young child killed in a bizarre accident. She knows her job is important, as she is instrumental in helping life come out of death. Her own daughter will soon have an approximately 14 hour surgery to reconstruct her heart; the daughter is just 8 years old. Her mom fears she will not have her daughter for very long.

How can someone have joy in the middle of all this pain and travail? These people are Christians, and though they must personally and/or professionally be in the orbit of death they know the Lord of Life, Jesus. They, and I, know the one who gives victory over death! Most comforting is the passage from Hebrews 2:14-15, "Since the chlidren have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."