Hey, Calvary Fremont –
Everywhere I look, I am surrounded by the dead and the dying. I will be in the mountains tomorrow to help scatter the ashes of my sister-in-law, and I will travel to Oroville on the last Saturday of this month to officiate at my aunt’s funeral. My dad is 95 and is, finally, showing signs of wear and tear. Actually, he is quite weak and frail and I don’t know how much longer he will be with us. Because of advancing age, or disease, or due to Do Not Resuscitate directives, various members of the church I serve will get news any day, or any moment, of the death of one of one of their parents or grandparents.
Many find themselves in the Valley of the Shadow of Death – either as those who are dying or as the companions and care-givers of those who are dying. There are three realities in the Valley of the Shadow of Death – the shadow of Death, Death itself, and the Rod and the Staff of our Shepherd. Of the three dozen (or so) people in the church whose direct family member may not survive the night, there is grief – but I haven’t encountered bitterness and hopelessness and despair. In the many conversations I have had with the various family members of those who are days and moments away from death, I have felt the hot raindrops of sorrow and grief relieved by the gentle breeze of thanksgiving and praise. Faith can have grief and sorrow, but it knows nothing of hopelessness and hysteria. Faith can have its tears, but not fears. “I fear no evil, for You are with me.”
John Wesley said of Methodists, “Our people die well.” I can say of those walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, “Our people grieve well.” We sorrow – but not as those who have no hope. The supernatural hope imparted by the death and resurrection of Jesus overwhelms the natural failing of the body. The spiritual swallows up the physical. Faith overcomes the fear. Hope banishes the hysteria. “O Death, where is your sting?” Christians feel the pinch of Death, but Christ has pulled the stinger out of that foul monster.
Even where there is uncertainty as to whether or not their loved one has received Christ, there is not hopelessness and hysteria. We Evangelicals like to be able to pinpoint the moment of one’s salvation. We are suspicious of someone who oozes into the Faith. We prefer a formulaic approach: Did they say the Sinner’s Prayer? Did they repent of their sin and ask Jesus for forgiveness and confess that Jesus is Lord? Has their conversion been time-stamped? Many near death’s door do not have an Evangelical background and can’t time-stamp their conversion. When Abraham was interceding for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he said to the Lord, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Genesis 18:25 There it is! Will not the Judge of the whole earth do right? What’s the answer to that question? Yes! The Judge of the whole earth will do right.
Many don’t have certain knowledge of the eternal destiny of their loved one nearing death. This can understandably cause great concern and create a heavy burden. But know this – the Judge of all the earth will do right! After sharing Christ and receiving a vague response – or a less than satisfying response, know this – the Judge of all the earth will do right. Many nearing death don’t communicate clearly concerning their response to Jesus, yet I know this – the Judge of all the earth will do right.
I am not a Universalist. A Universalist believes that eventually all will go to heaven except maybe Hitler and their mother-in-law. I am one who believes that we have a Faithful Shepherd who walks with us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and that we have a Righteous Judge who will always do right in the Shadows of Uncertainty.
Be blessed and stay healthy and follow Jesus – Pastor Tim