2012-08-21 - The Gates of Death
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we've been given a brand-new life, and have everything to live for, including a future in Heaven (1 Peter 1:34 MSG).
In my last devotional, I talked about reading an article that described what loved ones can expect when someone is in the final hours of life. I've never been the person at the bedside. I have confronted the possibility of being that person, though. I know that's not the same as actually going through the experience. Its nowhere close, and to suggest any different would be disrespectful to anyone who actually has. Facing that prospect had a profound impact on me, though. Reading that article about what happens in the hours before someone dies led me to think about those circumstances, for the first time in a long time.
For a while, a few years ago, I was very close with someone who had a long-term terminal illness. He was working very hard to stay healthy, but had already outlived so many people with the same disease. It was beginning to take more and more of a toll on his body. He was getting sick more often and staying sick longer each time. His is the kind of illness where the person might get sick and then bounce back, or might get sick and not be able to gain back lost ground. That means he could live for weeks, months, or years. It all depends on how sick he gets at any given time, and how able his body is to fight his sickness.
We became very close for a time. I saw, first-hand,how he had to devote time each day to taking medications and doing breathing treatments, to be as healthy as he could be. Most people who knew him had no idea about how hard he had to work to stay well. He was focused on living his life, and treated the medicines and doctor's visits and other aspects of managing his illness as something that just had to be done. The rest of the time, he was fully involved in a fulfilling career, friendships, and hobbies like anyone else. He wanted to make the most of his time here on Earth, and for the time he had left to be spent on things that were important to him.
If we had remained close, the reality that I might have been one of the people with him at the time of his death (be it sooner or later) was a distinct and actual possibility. I'd been around during several bouts of illness, and he trusted me as someone he could confide in, who didn't shy away from talking about the realities of his life. He felt comfortable with me, and able to be real and honest. I'm not naturally good with those kinds of situations. Being there with and for him, when he was at his sickest, would have been one of the hardest things I've ever done. I also think it might have been one of the most rewarding, meaningful, and humbling things I would have ever done. No matter what, I knew I wouldn't and couldn't shy away out of fear or my own discomfort.
Long story short, he didn't keep me in his inner circle. He's still alive (as far as I know), but I won't have to be there when he dies. That's a relief in a way, but I believe struggling with the realities of sickness and death in that situation brought me a lot of growth and perspective. I'm not the same person I was before knowing him, and wouldn't take back the experience and what it taught me. We've been out of touch for years, but if he contacted me tomorrow from a hospital or sick bed, and asked me to be there, I would still go.
When I was going through all that, and reading and thinking so much, I read a lot about the meaning of the word "soul." Thinking about it with a Christian viewpoint brought me a lot of comfort. My friend and I were both committed Christians, and our shared faith helped us talk more openly and with more hope. We both knew what really made him who he was was - not his body but his soul - and that his soul would continue when his body could not. Knowing that his soul was safe with Jesus, no matter what happened to his body, was so important. We talked about the difference that certainty made, quite a bit. He didn't want to die and was prepared to fight as long as he could and to make the most of his time on Earth, but he knew Heaven was real, and that Jesus had a place prepared for him there. That knowledge was such a comfort for him, and for me, too, of course.
That knowledge still comforts me. Jesus is always with him and cares for his soul, whether present or absent with the body, and whether I'm able to directly provide care and comfort or not. God will take care of him and meet his needs. He knows them better than I ever will. I don't know how I'll react if/when I hear of his death, but I know God will help me through my own feelings. I'll take comfort in the fact that I won't have to worry about where this man will spend eternity. I'll know he is no longer suffering physically, and that his soul has been freed from his compromised body.
We have to remember that how we are here on Earth is a temporary state. We won't always be this way. There will come a point for all of us, where our soul and body will disconnect, where the physical processes that keep our bodies alive will stop. Our souls won't always exist in our bodies as they do now, but they will exist eternally. The soul goes on when the body doesn't. Its a thought we can run from or its something we can accept. Either way, its true. Those of us who have a real relationship with the God who made us, and the Savior who died for us, can have peace about this. We know our souls will be freer one day than they are right now. We know what the Bible says about Jesus conquering the grave, and having victory over death, and how there is no suffering in Heaven. Our souls are not lost, if we have given them to Jesus. This knowledge can give us hope and peace when we need it most.