Browsing Tag

Death

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: Stephen Hawking Dead at 76

Many, up until his death last week, thought he was the world’s greatest living scientist. Merging Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum theory to himself postulate that space and time would begin with the Big Bang and end with black holes, he authored numerous books, including what was termed his  landmark work, “A Brief History in Time”. This one volume, among many he authored, sold over ten million copies. (He is pictured here with former President and Mrs. Clinton.)

In 1961, he was diagnosed with ALS  and given only a few years to live, but he was able to publish and speak through voice synthesizers for many more years than physicians had expected. He was an avowed atheist saying that “science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” He also stated “When I speak of God I use ‘it’ as a metaphor for the laws that control the universe.”

It’s tragic that for the past five days (as we measure time), Hawking has come to understand, in the most horrific way, that God is not a metaphor. He has come face to face with the reality that, not only does God exist, but, rather than being a metaphor for all of the laws of science, He (God) authored those laws. He now knows, indeed, since God is not bound by any of the limitations of time and space that He (God) imposed on our universe, that God is unfettered in His power and authority. He is supreme and omnipotent. Hawking, who spent a lifetime denying the existence of God, would give anything today to be able to “spend” His new existence– to “use up” time in his new and tortured environment. He would love to be able to “spend” a million years in hell and be free from its everlasting horrors. He wishes now that the laws of time and space, the laws for which “god is a metaphor”,  would rescue his soul and, once again, control His world. If he had one more moment in time, he would confess God’s existence and bow before Him. But the reality that is outside our boundaries of time and space cannot be measured,  “spent” or “used up.” It is eternity. It is never-ending. When Hawking has endured a million years, he has not reduced his term in hell by one second. That is, of course, for anyone who experiences it, the ultimate tragedy.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. Hawking thought of God as a figure of speech. He used the word “god” to mean the laws of science. Now he knows “what ” God is. He knows now, for sure.

Faith is the substance of the things we hope for as Christians (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is  that to which we cling in the here and now that gives substance to the hereafter.  If that’s the case, then surely disbelief is the substance of things dreaded in the life of an atheist.  ALS is a dreaded disease. Surely Hawking dreaded death, too. He knew pain during his life on earth.  But now he has tasted the full unending picture of eternal death. Skepticism and denial of the Divine is surely a sad way to live here on earth; but it is just the beginning precursor of eternal damnation.

Every time I consider the death of one who has lived a life of atheism, I feel sadness and great pity. But, as I think about the end of the ultimate rejection of God as Creator and Savior, I am also motivated–to study the Bible more regularly and deeply, to be ever mindful of the brevity of my own life and to cling to the substance of that for which I have the fondest hope. I know how fallible I am. I know my weaknesses and my propensity to fall if I “think I stand” (I Corinthians 10:24). I am so very thankful that the One Who has promised a way of escape with every temptation (I Cor. 10:13) is not a metaphor.

 

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Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where is Your Sting? –(The Conclusion)

The sting of death is sin.

Perhaps it seems a distasteful subject on which to spend eight successive posts and all the thought behind them; but death is an unrelenting common denominator to all people of all eras, nationalities and stations. Death is the unbending end. It is the unchanging destination to which all of us travel. We do not change our minds about the unspoken final entry into the universal journal.  So, why should we not spend time thinking about its ramifications? And why should such a natural passage be so very uncomfortable to approach in conversation or writing? 

It’s because what lies beyond it is universally unknown. No one that you know today can tell you about what is on the other side. You will never have lunch with someone who can tell you about a trip beyond death. You will not read a best-seller by someone who has returned from the land beyond death (though there have been many claims). So death is shrouded by mystery. It scares us and we prefer not to think much about it. We certainly don’t like to discuss it, and especially, we like to avoid discussing our own impending deaths. 

It’s only the Christian who has, by faith, a glimpse into the world that is already a reality for those who have left this life. And, for the Christian, that glimpse of faith should not be scary. Faith, after all, is not the substance of the the things we dread. It’s the “substance of the things we hope for,” (Hebrews 11:1). Truly, we are the only people who can, but we should be able to “look” over there with great anticipation and be ready for the transport of our lives when we leave this earth! 

The sting of sin is death (I Corinthians 15:56). In this marvelous chapter about the ultimate resurrection, we find these words that encompass all the other hurts of death. Death makes us regret only because of sin. Death makes us sad and lonely because of sin. Death makes empty chairs and hearts because of sin. Death makes its victims suffer pain because of sin. Death exists because of sin. Its introduction coincided with and resulted from the introduction of sin into our world (Genesis 3). It affects me, personally, because of my own sin (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23). Death is the figure on the payroll for my work of sin. 

Further, there is no answer for sin, but the gospel. Only the gospel—the good news—can make something good out of physical death. That’s what I Corinthians 15 is driving home to the Christian. The law of works (or the law of the Old Testament) only confirmed and defined sin. It made sin, sin. Men learn how to sin by looking at a perfect standard—a law. Man could not transgress against the law of God until that law was given. Romans 7:1-14 is a deep discussion, by Paul of sin and death, in which he tells us that the law makes sin “exceedingly sinful.” It’s the law that gives death its vigor…its sting. 

Nothing—no sacrifice, no piety, no law of God—could give us any ability against the ultimate formidable enemy which is death. Only the gospel—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus— could give us the victory over death. It’s ironic that one single death (and subsequent resurrection) could provide the victory over all other deaths prior to and following that one single death. Only a death followed by a permanent  resurrection could conquer the enemy that  had stung every human since the dawn of time. Only that good news could make Cindy Colley have a prayer against that venomous sting. 

And so the gloom of death—the pain, the horror the fear, the pallor—has all been eliminated for the Christian. The grave has no holding power; no victory. Death’s sting has been neutralized by the resurrected Savior. 

How foolish it is for any one of us—so weak, so affected by sin, so unrealistic in any bragging rights of strength or power against death—how foolish, I say, for any of us to reject the gospel, for it is the only strength we have against the sting of death. But the gospel is complete and total conquering victory over it. The grave is not the terminator for people of God. Why would smart people quibble over the simple requirements of such a gospel. Why, on earth, would people argue to their own eternal undoing about whether baptism really does put us into his death (Romans 6:3,4)—the only death that has ever held any power, any victory over the blackness of the “other” death that comes to all men. I want to be deeply buried in His death where there is no sting. When and if I lie in some hospital bed in my final moments, I want to claim the victory. I want to be able to welcome those angels. I want to hear my children singing “Be With Me Lord” because of their assurance that I am in Christ—in His death, in His victory. 

That’s why we should all spend some time contemplating death: because it is in our power at this moment to choose to subjugate death to a foe on which we trample because of the blood of Christ or to exonerate death to its ultimate victory over eternal salvation and happiness. If I choose the latter I give death the power: to sting, to enslave, to horrify, to torment forever. But why would anyone do that? 

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where Is Your Sting? –Part 7

 

                                            The Sting of Death Is Regret.

This is probably the toughest one for people  who are missing loved ones. You look at an old yearbook when cleaning out a bookshelf and think “Why did I not get this out while Dad was living and get him to tell me about these people he knew in college?”…”Why did I not tease Mother about her senior “ambition”: “to have a lot of money”?  Why did I not look through this box of photos with her and let her tell me who these people are? Why did I EVER think it was a chore to change a bed or wash tired feet, when it was really a blessing? Why didn’t I look around and say thank-you more often for intricate wooden toys built in that workshop, for shade trees planted or for the sewing of quilts that warm me now or for handmade dolls and dresses now being passed down to the fourth generation? Why did I not even know about this person she was trying to convert or this person for whom he bought meals or this class that he taught in his youth? I regret spending time counseling others, while at his house, when I could have been conversing with him.   

And then there are those bigger and more hurtful regrets. The times you raised your voice at a nonagenarian just because he was stubborn about doing his exercises properly or because he kept changing the water temperature in the tub when you had told him to leave it where it was…and mostly because YOU were about five nights behind on sleep. Those little things haunt you because they happened too frequently and you know you should have been kinder. You always apologized, but it’s difficult to get them out of your head. Regret is, of course, wishing you could go back and do something differently…and you can’t.

But I cannot imagine having to deal with the one huge regret as my parents left this life. If there is anyone reading who has walked away from the spiritual training your Christian parents gave to you, may I beg you to return while there is time? Even if your parents are gone from this life—even if they left this world hurting because you had walked away, there is still time to keep yourself from eternal regret. You can see them again and you can exchange regretting for rejoicing when you do. You can never go to heaven because you wanted to please your parents, but you can SURELY please them in the process of pleasing your Lord! I’m so glad for the place of reunion and rejoicing…just beyond the place where I can lay down all regret and pick up the white robe.

 

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where Is Your Sting?–Part 6

The Sting of Death is Absence.

There are four large oak trees growing on the property of the Jacksonville Church of Christ that were planted some seventy-five years ago by my father. The trees are a reminder to me that there was a day when a very young version of my Dad went with my Uncle Clifford Smith to bargain for some land on which to build a new meeting house for the Jacksonville church. One day, just a few months later, Dad went to get some oak saplings from his brother to plant on the newly-purchased land. The trunks of the oaks are places where children play hide and seek today and the branches provide ample shade around the building and the accompanying fellowship hall. They are a reminder that the plants have outlived the planter. 

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then it’s no wonder that children remember all the good times so readily when a parent leaves them behind, because suddenly life is saturated with the absence of that beloved mentor. That’s just one more aspect of death’s sting. This week I’ve been wading through lots of pots and pans, piles of old photos, heavy pieces of furniture, books, bedding, blue Mason jars and other various piles and containers from house, barn and workshop. Of course, the obvious truth that the work and collection outlives the worker  and collector shouts from every box, basket, pile, and parcel.

The words my sister said earlier in the week, as we were struggling (we all want to defer to the other) to divide up the old quilts, knives, pocket watches, rings, Bibles , etc…keep resounding: “We all know we can’t have what we really want, so this is really hard.” 

Absence is hard. Ezra, who is three, looked at the big laundry basket of toys that I brought home from Dad’s. “But,” he objected. “Doze are Piedaddy’s toys and we need to take dem back to his house, because he needs dem.”

Absence is hard. But the best truth is…absence in our little sphere, of course, means presence in God’s big and eternal one. That reality reminds me of three  important and reassuring things, today.

  1. Reminders of a good life are plentiful and, though they signal absence, they keep on providing good things for those who are still on the journey. A mother’s marked Bible, a good climbing tree, an iron swing set that’s so strong that only the trumpet’s blow will signal it’s end…all of these  keep telling us about a good provider who still, in may ways, does. 
  2. What we “want” is not always really what we want, at all. God is infinitely good and completely cares for his people. Ezra will learn soon enough that Piedaddy does not need anything!
  3. The giver of these left-behind treasures—the humble sharecropper’s son—knew the Giver. He knew the real sense in which all of us are sharecroppers. We are all just “farming Someone else’s land” as we sojourn here.
Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where Is Your Sting–Part 5

 

The Sting of Death is Humiliation.

While it should be often said that the sting of death is sin (I Corinthians 15:56), that sting hurts in various places in the human heart.  Sometimes a big part of the sting of death is the feeling of humiliation. It should not be this way, of course, but while I am so very thankful for those healthcare professionals upon whom we depend so heavily in times of illness, there are a relatively few  people in the healthcare industry that have yet to prioritize the good of the patient as the number one concern. Again, the majority of those who are caring for a loved one at the hospital are kind, compassionate and truly seeking the optimal good of the sick person, but not all are. Even those who are fully compassionate are often hampered by regulations of the insurance industry or of the hospital or rehab institution.

Like the primary care doctor, who after we’d made several visits to her clinic, could not recall that my father was a patient of hers when she made hospital rounds, and had not had the time, I assume, to check the records. Or the ER doctor we’d never met, who spent a good little while in the hallway of the ER attempting to talk us into stopping any aggressive treatment long before any Christian could conscientiously comply. I felt sorry for nurses who could not bring very necessary medicines to our father when he was at rehab, because they were not stocked in the pharmacy there. We had those medicines from home, right there in the drawer beside his bed, but the staff was bound, by regulation, to forbid us to administer them, even though we’d been administering them for many years. (Yes. Of course we did.) And there were therapists, who because of patient overload and restrictions by health insurance companies, were forced to be more driven by the clock than by the needs of patients.

Then in the final moments of life, it became obvious that the nursing staff had only two protocol choices: a ventilator OR medication to slow and eventually stop the heart. When we opted for neither of those, the nurse whose job it was to come in at the end of life and facilitate the peaceful passage even stated that, in her 14 years at doing “this”, she’d never seen a family who didn’t choose one or the other.  

Of course, it was not very long until our prayers were answered that night and all suffering ceased forever. I will say that I do not believe the “final-moments-nurse” had seen a family singing “Be With Me Lord” as the heart line on the monitor went flat. But that flat line was so much more than a monitor alerting us. It was the coming of angels and the eternal relief of a redeemed soul.  I believe she finally saw that it was so much more, as she looked at us in total wonder when we started that sweet chorus. 

Now, perhaps this is too much information on too difficult a topic. There are times, though, in life when I’m so affected by the words and actions of those around me who are not in the Lord, that I need to remember and reflect. Here are lessons that I learned as some (a very small percentage in the grand scheme) medical “experts” looked at me as if I had no clue about life or death or ethics or even common sense. Somehow, they made it appear humiliating to fight for the life of an aged man. It seemed when he died, on the face of it, humiliating that we had fought so hard for the life we loved and, in the end, lost that battle. But what the experts did not know, is that we won! We were able to walk away from that scenario, knowing that we had done our best every step of the way. We had maintained the standards of ethical integrity all along the journey and then, when the end came, we put His hand in the hand of Jesus without regret. We could pillow our heads and know that the real Expert was in charge now and that we could freely talk to the One who was lovingly overseeing the care of the perfectly mended one; the one we will miss for a short time and the one we will see again where there are no more tough decisions.

Lessons:

  • Sometimes it’s the people who are less clinically qualified who are the best caregivers. Those Physician”s Assistants have sometimes compensated for any letters they may lack on the ends of their names by exhibiting care and compassion. 
  • Those who study the Bible are far more qualified to define and assess ethics about medicine as it relates to life and death than are people of the world, even though the clinically qualified often do not recognize their deficiencies in these areas. Many doctors and nurses are both well-read in scripture and qualified by their secular educations. This situation is optimal. 
  • Medical professionals, apparently, rarely see families who are intimately involved in the decision-making processes of the aged. They surely seemed surprised that we would chart any sort of course on our own. I’m wondering if this typical relative lack of involvement speaks poorly of our nation’s care for its elderly, in general. 
  • It is extremely comforting to know you’ve prayed Romans 8:28 hundreds of times and what is happening in moments of crisis is a part of the “all things” of that passage. 
  • The sanctity of life can be compromised most easily in the pre-born season of life and in hospital rooms of the aged. Sometimes, those who are vocal for life at one end of the spectrum are careless with it on the other end.  
  • A clear conscience, molded by the Word and protected by His wisdom (James 1:5), is a very valuable commodity for His people at the moment of a loved one’s passage. 
  • The doctors are needed and most are compassionate. But the Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. 
Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where Is Your Sting?–Part 4

The Sting of Death Is the Struggle.

Sometimes the last hours before death are intensely difficult. When death follows sickness, the struggle for the faithful— just before the angels come— is often obvious to everyone in the room. When a loved one, due to intubation or shortness of breath or other problems, loses the ability to fully communicate, but looks at caregivers with eyes that plead for some kind of relief, the inability to offer that relief is almost unbearable. Sometimes, as a son or daughter, you are looking at a parent— one who has relieved your own pain, borne your grief, on countless occasions. You would give anything now to ease the struggle as life ebbs away for your loved one, but there is absolutely nothing you can do but pray as the power of life and death does not rest in your hands. 

That’s when you are glad for passages of Holy Writ that are comforting beyond what any mortal can offer. You pray, in those moments, for the “peace that passes understanding”—the peace that can “guard your heart and mind” in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). You remember that neither life nor death (neither of the possibilities at the end of the struggle) can separate those in the room from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38). You remember that, whether this loved one lives or dies, you are still walking in the dark shadow cast by death and that you should fear no evil, for He is with you. There is great comfort in His rod and staff (Psalm 23:1-3). You remember that you may be  approaching a very precious moment because that’s how the death of His saints is characterized. It is “precious” to God (Psalm 116:15). The Word is truly the staff on which you lean in these moments of struggle. 

You also remember that there was One who struggled between life and death for six hours one dark day on a hillside outside of Jerusalem. Surely the desperate look was in His eyes as he bore excruciating pain and suffered unbearable mental anguish. Yet there was no one to come to His aid. His mother looked up into the suffering eyes of her son. The disciple whom he loved looked up and saw the struggle. The Father looked down and, because he knew that the cross was the only path to heaven for me, turned His face away, at least in some sense, from that situation that my sin demanded. He struggled more intensely than anyone in any hospital bed that I will ever know. He struggled so that my  struggle between life and death could be just that—a relatively short, albeit, perhaps painful fight against death; a struggle that ends with eternal victory over death. He, the just One, did the struggle —the suffering—for me, the unjust One. 

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.

And because of the empty tomb—the quickening of the Spirit of Christ—the sting of death for the faithful is extremely short and, in fact, is the doorway to victory.