End-of-Life Warning March 03 2018
(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")
I recently purchased a carbon monoxide detector that advertised an “End-of-life Notification.” That seemed a little strange. Not only could this detector warn you when CO levels were high, but it was sophisticated enough to determine when people had died and could notify authorities. But my first reaction was “I’m not sure I would be very confident of this CO detector.”
On further reading, it became apparent that the “End-of-life Notification” was referring to the life of the 10-year battery, and of course not to the people. OK. I get it now. But it started me thinking about other notifications we could receive about end of life that were real.
On January 13, residents of Hawaii had something like an end-of-life warning when they received notices that there was an incoming missile and that they should take cover. The message read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Given the recent threats from North Korea, and the fact that a missile from North Korea could reach the islands in about 30 minutes, citizens were inclined to take the warning seriously. Family members and friends called and texted one another saying their goodbyes. People fled to basements, down manholes, and wherever they could find a place that vaguely resembled “cover.” As we all know, the notification turned out to be a false alarm, but it also turned out to be 38 minutes of people full of worry, fright, panic, desperation, prayers, tears, wild thoughts, and who knows what else.
I am always hesitant to write about the topic of unexpected death, because so many of us have been affected by it, and we have seen so much of it in the news, not the least of which has been the school shootings in Parkland, Florida. In prior blogs, we have noted the staggering number of sudden, unexpected deaths that come just from drug overdoses (64,000 in 2016), traffic accidents (40,000) and homicides (15,700). Heart attacks can be sudden cause of death, and 610,000 Americans a year die from this cause alone, one quarter of all annual deaths in the U.S.
Regardless of the cause, unexpected death can turn the lives of those who remain upside-down: husbands or wives left with a family to manage on their own, children orphaned, incomes lost, plans for the future instantaneously changed. Life is challenging under normal circumstances, and these challenges are compounded when a loved one passes from this earth.
Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789 that “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” and it is a reality that the chances of our physical death are 100%, unless the Lord returns first. In other words, all of us are terminally ill. Death is, therefore, a topic we must deal with, and as believers we should not be afraid to do so. One of the great things about God’s Word is that it deals directly with life’s difficult topics, including death, and it provides radical hope for the believer, a hope that the world could never provide.
I remember the first time I attended the memorial service of a believer, shortly after I came to Christ in my early 20s. It was astonishing and eye-opening. Yes, there was grief and there were tears, but there was also an overpowering sense of hope and even joy. It was a vivid illustration of the truth of I Thessalonians 4:13-14: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
When Shashi’s father died suddenly at age 50, just two years after we had been married (his wife was only 43 at the time), the pastor spoke at the memorial service from Philippians 1:20-24, where Paul vividly described his personal tug-of-war about being ready to die, but also wanting to stay a little longer on earth, to serve God and others:
“… but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”
Dad’s pastor reminded us of the biblical reality that death is a believer’s ultimate upgrade, hard though it may be for those who are left. While I would never minimize how difficult life can be after the death of child, a spouse, a family member, or a friend, I would also not want to minimize the power of hope there is in a believer who has gone Home, even in a tragic, sudden way.
The emphasis in the Scriptures is all about spiritual life, not physical death. Sometimes we can put the emphasis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. In fact, the word “life” is used 47 times just in the Gospel of John. There are several great reminders of this contrast in this book, among them being John 5:24: “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” That is great assurance!
We covered this passage just two weeks ago at our church, and as we have been studying John’s gospel, our pastor has also been reminding us of the purpose of the book as summarized in John 20:30-31: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
It is a comforting reminder to us as believers, but also a call to make this astonishing hope known to an otherwise lost world. Paul again encourages us in I Corinthians 15:55-58 to be steadfast in living out this hope and conveying it to others: “O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
There have been several friends we know who have unexpectedly lost loved ones in recent weeks. Thankfully, these were believers, and they have believing families who can encourage one another. But it’s still tough, and in some cases the family that remains will need a lot of help. Like them, we never know when the Lord might take us home. Going back to my CO detector, we have already received our physical “end-of-life warning.” And perhaps there was some spiritual lesson for us in the reminder of the Hawaiian missile incident. In any event, the knowledge of our mortality should prompt us, like Paul, to both be ready at any time and to “abound in the work of the Lord” while we remain. May God give us the grace, strength, and boldness to do so.
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