The Death of Death

Screwtape to Wormwood: "How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes? Amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, (as we have trained them,) promising life to the dying, and withholding all suggestion of a priest, lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition." - C.S. Lewis

I work in a hospital. Long term care, to be specific. I can’t even count the number of conversations I’ve had with patients or their family members about death and what comes next. Being the good little theology student that I am, I make sure to talk a lot about God and heaven, quoting verses like Revelation 21.4 and other allusions to hope… Careful not to say anything about hell that might accidentally offend (or convict) them. Basically, feeding their soul (which is, at this moment, as alive as it’s ever been) with a load of lies.

Why do we do this? Mask the gospel, I mean. I’m as guilty as anyone -- even more guilty, probably, given the frequency of missed opportunities in my life. I’m good at chalking each one up to things like “busy” or “not at my spiritual best right now,” but it seems like James had some very harsh words for people like me: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4.17)

But could I really share with them what the gospel means to me? The impact it’s had on my life and the weight it now holds? I can’t even explain it to myself; how could I make any sense of it to someone else?

Sure, I know the tactics. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” right? Oh does He? By whose definition of 'wonderful'? Not to mention: Is that the message Christ preached? Um, no. Not really. Textually speaking, most of Christ’s message centered on defining the Kingdom of Heaven: its characteristics, its boundaries, and the qualifications of its citizens. In many ways, the gospel came as a threat to those who heard it. He often spoke about who will not be partaking of heaven. Things that, if we really hear what He’s saying, should keep us awake at night until we repent! Images of hell (Gehenna: the place outside Jerusalem where they burned trash), gnashing of teeth, weeping day and night, unquenchable thirst… This is serious. It’s serious to the 45 year old end-stage cancer patient, and it’s serious to the guy sitting next to us in the coffee shop.

In Western Christianity, we have a habit of down-sizing our problems. Sexual orientation is just part of our genetic makeup. Abortion is just a choice. Pornography is just a chronic disease. Divorce is just a part of life. And death -- not only do we ignore its existence up until the moment it hits us in the face, but when it does arrive, we saturate our discussions with images of clouds and pearly gates and cherubim… Therefore not allowing the Holy Spirit to devastate us by these things, like he used to.

In America’s earlier years, when a loved one died, the children were encouraged to go up to the body, touch it, sit next to it… and feel the weight of their own mortality. King David, after he witnessed 70,000 men die in a 3-day-plague, understood death very well. He sings: “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” (Psalm 103.15-16) But most of us, whether we verbalize it or not, believe we are immortal. It follows, then, that we never feel burdened to share the gospel or reach out of our comfort zone to love someone -- when it can always be done “tomorrow.”

My friends, Satan has us deceived. To quote C.S. Lewis again, here’s the bottom line:
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” - C. S. Lewis

"Nobody appreciates me anymore."

2 comments:

  1. "But most of us, whether we verbalize it or not, believe we are immortal."

    Even when we come to an age where we recognize our own mortality...that we will eventually die...it seems we emphasize "eventually" intead of "die". I think that is why receiving a diagnosis of cancer (or other terminal disease) stops us dead in our tracks! All of a sudden "eventually" has become "soon". All of a sudden we recognize "death" for its deadliness...that all die...that the entire human race is headed headlong over the cliff, us included. Death is ours. It makes sin deadly serious and it makes God's salvation so intensely necessary and full of His grace.

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  2. I think about my family in Colombia often, most of them are agnostics and my heart aches for them.

    My uncle was diagnosed with crohn's disease when I was about 8 years old and he's survived innumerable surgeries, they won't perform more surgeries on him because his skin can't take it.

    I was thinking about him and how God has kept him around for the last 2 decades, yet he still hasn't confessed Jesus, he has not repented and it grieves me, but I am grateful for God's mercy in keeping him alive. And then your blog made me think of me, and how pathetic my attempts have been at sharing the gospel with him. Excuse in and excuse out I have avoided the subject and my prayers around him have been overly hope filled, not to 'freak him out'. Thank you for the rebuke, it hit home.

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