Let’s talk about Death babee
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the bad times and the dark times that may be
Let’s talk about Death
With apologies to 90’s girl-power band Salt n Pepa the one conversation to talk about – or rather NOT to talk about, is no longer sex, but death. Everyone’s talking about sex. No one is talking about death. So let’s talk about it.
This post arises from the coming together of two pieces on death that I have read in the past day. Firstly, an excellent blog post by fellow West Aussie Dan Patterson, doing mission work in Bulgaria. Check out his thoughts on “A Christ-Centred Death”.
The second was an article in the UK Independent Newspaper about a family man in his forties called Andy Goode: Prepare to Die, Doctors Told Me. But They Were Wrong. Having been told the same thing less than three years ago it caught my attention. When I read it I realised that Andy’s story was mine to a “T”; both diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer after chronic illness and weight loss, both given the same prognosis (12 months tops), both going through the unfolding, exasperating trauma of discovering that the diagnosis was wrong. And both spending some time recovering physically (he avoided the major surgery I underwent) and emotionally/psychologically.
As I put the template of Daniel’s post over Andy’s story I get a sense of my own story. You see, Andy’s story is mine, except for one important point. When I (I should say “we” – Jill was amazing the whole time) finally faced it – Death – it suddenly became the Christ-centred death that Dan speaks of, and we as Christians hope we find when “it” eventually arrives And before you think of either sentimental syrupy cherubs hovering over my slightly glowing bed (cheap homage to death-bed scenes in second-rate Victorian era novels – Ed), or of my heroic stoicism (not one of Steve’s known traits – Ed), the truth is that it was TRUTH that strengthened me, and external truth at that. Not simply an internal truth about what I knew. Not the hopeful “truth” that they might be able to cure me, nor the truth that I had a great super-scheme which Jill would be able to access, but two external truths:
1: The Resurrection of Jesus
Not MY resurrection, but HIS. Yes, yes I know, we talk about the resurrection and we believe it, but for me it was the fact that a resurrected human being is sitting on the throne of heaven that gave me the greatest comfort. Think about that for a minute. Do you ever just ponder that Jesus is a resurrected human? I was facing death and I knew that I would one day be raised bodily, but the mystery that God the Son from eternity is also, via the incarnation, resurrection and ascension, a living human being ruling the cosmos, gave me a comfort I could not have mustered from within myself. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are united to Christ the God/Man, and that was astonishing in its power at the time.
2. An Alien Righteousness
Again, Not MY righteousness, but HIS. Confronted with my own death, and being told the time was short, triggered two thoughts in me, one negative and the other amazing and liberating. The negative one was this: I do not have the time to sort out all the stupid things I have done in life, or to do all the good things I should have done. However this was completely washed away by the astonishing realisation that I have been GIVEN an alien righteousness – one that is not mine, but Christ’s. It was as though all my theology that I had known kicked in. Like a power generator when the mains go down, the light flickered for a second, switched over and kept going.
Martin Luther famously put it this way:
Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours.
I have changed since my “episode”. My illness does indeed seem like the fulcrum of my life. But I haven’t changed in so many ways too. I still stress, still sin, still get moody. I’m a bit like Homer Simpson at times who, when given the all-clear after a near death experience, declares that he will never waste time again, before parking himself on the sofa with a beer to watch day-time TV.
But unlike Andy Goode, however, my salvation is not to be found in the remaining years that have suddenly come back to me. My full salvation is found beyond the grave, not in scurrying about this side of it. So I have found that I have slowed down, stressed less, and been more aware of putting sin to death, simply because the alternative is that sin will put me to death! Facing death heightens your awareness of how awful sin – your sin – actually is, and how that constant refrain in the list of astonishingly old descendants in Genesis 5 “and he died”, betrays the lie of the deceiver when he tells Eve “you shall not surely die”, when in fact she will and does.
Perhaps it sounds funny, but if you want to cope with your impending death better, get to know your theology better, especially that of the resurrection, and the alien righteousness Christ confers on you. Maybe that seems like a waste of time. Maybe you are young and invincible. Maybe you will learn it and then let it lie dormant for a while as you scurry about in life. But like a generator when the power fails, you just might find that it will kick in at the crucial time, giving light in the dark, warmth in the cold, and a chance to display to the world what a Christ-centred Death might look like.