End of Life Issues

Pastor’s Post #29: “END OF LIFE ISSUES”, pt. 1 

The writer of Hebrews in chapter 2 and verse 15 speaks darkly but honestly of all human beings – since the fall of our first parents – as being subject to slavery all their lifetimes due to the fear of death.

That fear of death comes sometimes in mockery. The utterly irreverent 1960s song by Blood, Sweat and Tears, “When I Die” mocks death: I’m not scared of dyin’, and I don’t really care. If it’s peace you find in dying, well then let the time be near. Just bundle up my coffin cause it’s cold way down there. I hear that it’s cold way down there; yeah, crazy cold way down there. Here I go, ah – here comes the devil, right behind. Look out children, here he come. Here he come.”

Sometimes the fear of death comes in various ways of avoiding it. Death is spoken of with the prudishness that marked Victorian views of sexual intimacy. Everything is done by funeral directors (at great expense) to make “the deceased” “look natural.” And there are now drive-in funeral homes where you can get a quick glimpse of “the departed loved one” by pressing a button, seeing the body in the casket under glass with careful illumination, and then drive on.

In yet other cases, we use battle technology to impress upon others that – with our technology, medicine, alternative remedies, and human fortitude we will “wage our war on cancer”, “overcome aging”, and “get victory over the disease.” As in war, we will use every measure, at whatever cost, in an all-out effort to conquer the mortal enemy of death.

Yet death eventually wins – always.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is meant to transform all of this. The same passage in Hebrews that speaks of people being subject to slavery all of their lives because of the fear of death, says prior to that: Jesus Christ shared in our flesh and blood – that is, he was truly human as well as truly divine – so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  

For the Christian – the one who is united to Jesus Christ in true faith – everything about his or her outlook on death is different (or it should be). Death as punishment has no ultimate power over the Christian. Death is a separation of the soul from the body. While the body (being still united to Christ) rests in the grave, the soul goes into “Paradise” – the immediate presence of God, the unfallen angels, and the spirits of all the justified ones who have preceded them. At the return of Christ, their bodies shall be changed into incorruptible bodies and united with their incorruptible souls as the entrance into the glorified state of eternal life.

Christians ought to face death with the words of the soon-to-be-martyred Thomas More in T. S.Eliot’s famous play Murder in the Cathedral: “I’m not in danger, only near to death.”

Yet interestingly, (and quite curiously, in my opinion) “people of faith” – including committed Christians – are often the ones least accepting of the inevitability of death. Whether through an extreme understanding of the 8th commandment’s requirement to “take all lawful attempts to preserve our own lives or the lives of our neighbors”, or a genuine but misguided faith that God will always “heal the sick” if we pray hard enough or have enough faith, or a sincere but blind effort to show care for our loved ones – people will unwittingly seek to prolong a life that should be relinquished to the loving hands of the God in whom we live, and move, and have our very being.

Here’s a beautiful example of a woman’s Christian faith that transformed her view of facing death

It’s from a book I highly recommend, Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age, by Dr. Bob Cutillo. (pp. 122f.)

Today’s Visit to the Pastor’s Study will begin to explore End of Life Issues. The topic is delicate, but Christians should face it honestly – always in the light of the only real cure for death: The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I have two Christian medical doctors for my guests on today’s program. Dr. Megan Gaffey currently serves as a senior pediatric ENT fellow at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Michaela Ibach.   They met during their years at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School They’re going to help us work through just some of the challenges – and they’re huge ones – of End of Life Issues.

Dr. Megan Gaffey and Dr. Michaela Ibach, welcome to A Visit to the Pastor’s Study….