Random Reflection (Sept 8, 2010)

8 Sep

This may sound a bit morbid, but I’ve been thinking about death/dying a lot lately.

It may be because of the fact that ever since I came back from China, my immune system has been getting progressively worse by the year (it started off with only a few colds and headaches in the beginning, but now I’d be lucky if I went one month without getting sick).

But all to say, lately when I’ve been getting sick, the thought of death and dying has been coming to mind (a lot) … and it’s been bugging me.

Now, I know that none of us are going to live forever and that death is an inevitability (that is, unless Christ returns before God takes us).  And so, it’s not as if I’m in denial.

Rather, it’s quite the opposite; with the increasing number of times I’ve been getting sick, I am reminded that death is more and more a certainty.

However, what has been bugging me is just the shear uncertainty of what happens after the fact.  That is to say, how does anyone know what happens after we die?

I recently came across this fascinating blog in which Rachel Barkey, a woman who knew she was dying of terminal cancer, wrote letters, chronicling her spiritual and emotional journey through her battle with cancer until she died on July 2, 2009.

In her second to last entry titled, “Dying is hard,” she wrote the following:

I’ve never done it before and there’s no one around who’s done it before to ask how to do it well.

She articulated into words what I had been thinking.

Undoubtedly, some might wonder at this point: “But John, you’re a pastor! You study the Word of God!  Shouldn’t you, of all people, be confident and hopeful of the glory that comes after death to all those who are in Christ?”

And herein lies the dilemma – namely, yes, I should be hopeful… and yes, I should be confident.  But, contrary to popular sentiment, pastors do struggle.  And for a while now, this was an issue that I was wrestling with for quite some time theologically; emotionally; practically.

But, in the end, God is merciful.

Today, I picked up a copy of J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God and God spoke powerfully through it, as I couldn’t put it down.

Without going into all of the details, one thing I felt God speak ever-so-clearly to me (not audibly; I feel I should always qualify this, why?) through the book was this: “John, you don’t know me.  You may know a lot about me.  But you don’t know me.”

This diagnosis was spot on.

The reason I was so uncertain (and if I had to be honest, even fearful to some extent) of death was because I didn’t know God.  Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t know Him through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.  But, in the end, I didn’t know Him.

In the book, Packer makes the point that theology (the study of God) must be seen only as a means to an end – with that end, being to know God.  Only insofar as theology helps us to that particular end is it useful.  Any other use of theology is simply vain idolatry.

God was gracious to reveal to me (yet again) what a wicked idolater I am.

Reading this book has stirred in me a passion to know Him (as opposed to simply knowing about Him).  I can firmly say now that one of my deepest desires now is to truly know God (as He has revealed Himself through Scripture).

I now picture a day in which, God-willing, I will be on my deathbed – not uncertain or fearful of death – but rather, excited to finally see face to face the One I had been getting to know little by little everyday.

God, be gracious to me, a sinner, even in this.

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