Month 10:12, Week 2:4 (Revee/Shavu'ot), Year:Day 5937:278 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Sunday 12 January 2014
Confronted by Death
Thoughts on the Final Journey
When You are Feeling Deathly Ill
When you are feeling extremely ill and and can sense death in the distance looming ever closer, not sure whether the natural recovery process of the body will halt the decline at a point closer to remaining life or closer to the fateful date of departure, or whether Yahweh will intervene, you get to do some sober thinking. You start to prioretise the things you want and need to do and, and at the darkest moments, try to condense your thoughts for maximum impact and blessing for those you will be leaving behind. Moreover, this is not something you can 'research' as you might a theological sermon - everything has to come from the depths of your innermost being, or it's just empty words. Today's devotional is an attempt to dig deeper than I usually would because of my own experiences these past few days. Rather than sit or lie down in constant pain, and being anxious with my difficult breathing, and being aware of little else, I decided to sit down and write this and produce something useful, I hope. You never know if it might be your last.
An Unexpected Question
Life and death are baffling. They make zero sense from an atheistic perspective (which is purposeless by definition) but even from a theistic one, dozens of important questions remain unanswered. Since my already bad heath started taking a major downturn for the worse a few days ago, and incapacitating me to an extent I have never experienced before and taking away from me the possibility of doing so much of the work I love so much, and as the face of death has stared me in the face a few times, such questions have loomed large in my mind. It became all the more accute when one of my sons, not knowing what I was going through, asked at the dinner table: "I wonder what it will be like when Dad dies?" Though shocked by the 'coincidence', I didn't let on how disturbed I really was - he's never asked that before. Then when of my other sons replied that he would cry a lot, the sobering impact of the moment became even greater.
I am appalled at the things I have left undone, the failures in relationships, the stupid decisions made, the time wasted, and the frustrating silence of heaven at those times when you most want to hear something reassuring from above. Then your faith gets really stretched, and desperation, unless checked with memories of miracles and divine communions in the past, mounts feverishly. Death is not an easy thing especially when you're sensing its immediacy and don't know how the crisis is going to play out. It's arguably the hardest journey of all because you have no idea what lies ahead beyond the few teachings of Scripture and the often conflicting testimonies of those who have crossed the veil and come back to tell their tale. Having lost my mother nine months ago, and having been at her bedside day and night for the last months, and watching her deteriorate and suffer so much, death's presence and inescapable reality is still fresh in my mind. Then I think of friends and acquaintances wrestling with life-threatening illnesses whose prayers for healing are not always being granted, and I feel my mortality even more.
A Young Cancer Victim's Last Testimnony
The other day I was watching the last testimony on video made by a very young Christian woman dying of cancer. Her emunah (faith) was awe-inspiring, the shalom (peace) she knew incomprehensible to one who has not quite got to her stage, and the obvious genuineness of her communion with Elohim (God) reassuring, in one sense, in that it confirmed His reality in the face of such a horrible thing as looming death, but frightening in another as I realised that my emunah (faith) was fundamtentally lacking in so mamny things. Moreover, she didn't conceal her fears either, but she did have answers to them. The Ruach (Spirit) had spoken to her deeply and she was comforted. Some of the things she said I did not like - I did not want to hear them, because they challenged some of the unrealistic conclusions I had provisionally arrived at. The imminent death of such a young and vivacious person who had never known the joys and challenges of marriage or parenthood, stirred feelings of frustration in me, for you see while I am blessed with seven wonderful children, I know I have not given them all I should have or have wanted to. She had wanted to be a missionary but as she herself pointed out, she was having such an impact in her witness on others in the way she comportmented herself in her dying that it would have made the original mission she had planned so much less effective. She was having her prayer answered but in a way she had been wholly unprepared for and in a way that was giving Yahweh more glory had she not got cancer. Neither her life nor her death but the way she was dying was what was converting souls to Yah'shua (Jesus) and she was at rest as far as what she was having to sacrifice to have that missionary impact she had always wanted to have. She was sowing for herself something that promised a hundredfold yield in the next life on the basis of a promise that takes a lot of faith to believe in and put into practice:
Death's Approach Reveals What Matters
"Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life" (Matt.19:29, NKJV).
On your death bed physical things mean nothing, theology becomes focussed on the things that ultimately matter as far as the eternities are concerned (eternal life), and relationships mean everything. The most bitter regrets at any deathbed scene must surely be failed relationships and this young woman was making every one of her existing relationships count in a dramatic and fulfilling way, and her friends and family knew it. As I listened to her I realised that our errors are not necessarily in those things we believe and do but in how much priority we assign to each. How valuable is our theological correctness or our dedication to Torah if we "have neglected the weightier matters of the Torah (Law): justice and mercy and emunah (faith)" (Matt.23:23, NKJV).
The Things That Weigh in the Eternities
- In what things have we been just and in what have we been unjust?
- In what things have we been merciful and in what have we been implaccably hard?
- In what things have we shown genuine faith and in what have we allowed ourselves to be drowned by doubt?
And I don't like these questions precisely because, at the point when knowing their answer is going to weigh mightily in determining our place in the eternities, this is when last minute decisions have to be made that should have been made long, long ago, leaving so little time to anything meaningful for those left behind.
Two Deaths Meet
Yesterday afternoon, sensing life's tenuousness and feeling close to death's door, I went down to my mother's house where she died at the end of last April, and which has been an empty shell since, awaiting a new lease of life, and one death that was past met one that was looming and unwelcome. How much time did I have left? Would I be granted an extension of life through healing as Hezekiah was, and for which I have begged for years now, or was my time chizzled in stone and unerasable? Would someone else be preaching those words I, and millions before me, have preached at funerals, their acceptance or rejection of which is the difference between heaven and hell?
Belief or Unbelief?
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26, NKJV).
Do I believe them? Yes, I do. And I know I do because when I felt deaths icy fingers play with me a few days ago, and I sang "Holy, holy, holy" within myself to Yahweh, I felt the emunah (faith) and the simcha (joy) and the tiqveh (hope) well up within me and I was comforted. So, no, I don't doubt the resurrection or my place in it, but the quality of it based on my obedience or disobedience, my service or my procrastination, my successes or failures to do what was right, and such things, is obviously going to be included in the final judgment. And had I forgiven everyone their trespasses against me? For to fail to do so would mean the unthinkable (Mt.6:12) and the terrifyingly possible:
"But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt.6:15, NKJV).
You see, fresh in my mind was the testimony of a Nigerian pastor who had died in a car accident and come back to life later after much prayer intercession by his congregation. He had been shown heaven and hell and the malak (angel) conducting the tour had told him, when he asked if he could remain, that if he did not go back to earth and forgive his wife for something she had done wrong to him that he would go to hell. That was one of those 'sobering moments' for me and it was very recent.
"The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away...So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps.90:10,12, NKJV).