Monday, June 20, 2011

On death and dying

Death is not something that many of us like to think about. That's kind of funny because it is inevitable for us all. The reality is that we will all breathe our last breath sooner or later and none of us know when our day will come. But we still live from day to day like we are invincible, never thinking that today could be our last day on the earth.

My dad lives with our family and was recently diagnosed with fourth stage colon cancer. He is 83, so he has lived a long life. Nonetheless it is still difficult to stare death in the face. On Father's Day I wrote him a letter to let him know how much I love him and how much God loves him. I remembered a poem that I saw in one of those Daily Bread devotional booklets almost 20 years ago and included it in the letter.

What Cancer Can't Do
It cannot cripple love
It cannot shatter hope
It cannot erode faith
It cannot eat away peace
It cannot destroy confidence
It cannot kill friendship
It cannot shut out memories
It cannot silence courage
It cannot invade the soul
It cannot reduce eternal life
It cannot quench the spirit
It cannot lesson the power of the resurrection

Whether it is the result of cancer, a car accident or a long life that ends by natural causes, death awaits us all. However, those of us who know Christ are not without hope. Jesus said "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies" (John 11:25) In other words, we will all leave our earthly bodies behind one day, but those of us who believe in Christ will live.

The apostle Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:54-58
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Paul seems to have a healthy view of our lives on this earth and eternity. He realizes that "Death has been swallowed up in victory" and as a result we can stand firm, living out the rest of our days with purpose. He goes as far as to encourage us to always give ourselves "fully to the work of the Lord." Why? Because our labor is not in vain. We have the opportunity to join God in what He is doing on this earth and that is the main reason why we are still breathing.

Rather than fear death, we should live in such a way that when our time comes, we will be left with no regrets. Lately I have found myself aksing this question "If my last day were tomorrow, would I have any regrets?" As a result, with God's help, I am trying to live in such a way that the answer would be "No".

"Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins." James 4:13-17