Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Ignominious End

"You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." The Dark Knight

Just finished the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. This is the 2nd bio by this author (I read Albert Einstein) and am just as amazed at this one as I was with that one. What a writer!

The experience was so mesmerizing.... but I have to confess a dark sadness that crept over me as I read the latter end of the story. Watching Steve Jobs grow frail and weak under the attack of cancer- without any real assurance of the afterlife- was heart breaking.

Questions of death and especially how we die has always been on the forefront of my gospel awakening. I became a Christian after we experienced the loss of a high school classmate and I stood looking into the great chasm of the mysterious permanence and knew I was not prepared.

But reading about and watching people pass away over the course of my life has deepened my conviction of the glorious message of the gospel- a simple hope and a solid security.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

                        Dylan Thomas- Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

It is quite OK to hate death- to despise cancer- to curse the curse- the key question is.... How do you approach death? Is it secure? Can you die with dignity?

I was first asked these questions by my spiritual mentor, Mr Bill Stegall, on a beautiful golf course on a brilliant fall day. Mr Stegall used to take me out, beat me in golf (he was in his early 70's and I was in my late 20's). During those rounds he would ask me questions... about marriage, the Bible, leadership, stewardship..etc. I would answer and he would clarify... every now and then he would say one word 'EXCELLENT' and I would feel a supreme satisfaction, like I had hit a home run to win the game.

One that beautiful day, Mr Stegall talked about the glory of the leaves changing for the Fall. And he hit me with the deepest question " Jay, all my friends are dying... these were men who built factories, developed businesses, led churches, strong men.. but now they just seem to wither like scattered leaves... so answer me this... How do you die with dignity?

I knew better than to give it a hasty or foolish response- "I'll have to think on that one Mr Stegall" and we played on.

Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death,
Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth,
Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open,
And, in despite, I'll cram thee with more food!
There are some rather poor ideas in the world about this. This blog is named after the famous poem by William Cullen Bryant- THANATOPSIS (a view of death) that is the most futile and hopeless message that some men have. In that poem, Bryant says there is no life after death- you just die and get mixed back into the earth. Steve Jobs himself toyed with this idea... he likened it to an on/off switch. He even joked that maybe that is why he didn't like on/off buttons on his Mac products.

The sad reality though is that IF there is no life after death... then life has no real meaning. Thanatopsis agrees with this "and each on as before will chase his favorite phantom". The Bible agrees with this- Paul argues in I Corinthians 15 that "If there is no life after death... let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die".

If peasants, and Kings, and immoral, and young all go to the same end- why try to be unselfish? Why be noble? Why yield to any authority?

It was I Corinthians 15 where I found my answer for Mr Stegall......Paul says that there is a resurrection of the dead, found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Read the whole chapter sometime.

But death is a humiliation- we die in weakness and we are raised in glory.

I was on the golf course a few weeks later and Mr Stegall had not forgotten my assignment.

"Jay, have you been thinking about my question.. How do you die with dignity?"

"Yes Sir, I have... a lot."


"Well, Mr Stegall, I have been reading I Corinthians 15 and I don't think we die with dignity. Death is  sin's  last knockout blow- if we I've long enough we end in shame. We are a man once and a baby twice. Frail..weak...dependent.

But Paul makes it clear- we are sown in dishonor but we are raised in glory. We go down in shame, we are raised in victory. Christ has done so for us!

Our job is to fight like hell until that last dying breath, which is the great glorious trumpet call of God as He calls us home. If we die in Christ, we do die with honor."

He looked with deep eyes and a low voice.. EXCELLENT!

A few years later I held his hands and prayed. The robust 6'5 man of God had been withered by bone cancer, but he was ready for glory.

SIn causes ignominious ends- men get old and just slip away. No one escapes it. It happens to bodies, it happens to careers.

Joe Paterno, Tiger Woods, and Bobby Bowden all have faced or will face inglorious endings. The inevitable change is sad. It all fades in this life.

BUT.... there is hope. And that is why I never tire of telling the good news of Christ. Please reach out to Him while there is breath and a heart beat.

Longfellow said our heartbeats are muffled funeral marches to a grave. Do not go into that darkness, that mysterious realm of permanence without Jesus. The Lord of nail scarred hands- stretched out in love

1 comment:

Frank McClung said...

I'm really glad that you're willing to ask these questions about death and the curse. For most of my life, I've believed like every other Christian that faith in Christ's death and resurrection will bring eternal life with Him. This is Christianity 101.

What I didn't believe, and didn't know that I didn't believe, was that faith in Christ's death has the power to destroy death and the curse itself--right here, right now, while I'm still on this earth. This is what Christ wants to accomplish in a people and why the letters are written to us in Revelations...to him who overcomes. What are we overcoming? Sin, Satan, death.

Instead of believing in the power of His death, I made a covenant with death (Is 28:18) and said in my heart that I must physically die like everyone else. I shortchanged the power of the cross to bring physical death to an end in me.

I also didn't understand that death has to do with our state of independence from Him which is manifested in physical death, disease, sickness, and every other form of the curse.

He's now broken that covenant with death in me. I understand that when He said in Rev 12:11 about overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and that "they did not love their life -- unto death", the death He's referring to is His death. They abided in the power of His death or His life laid down (i.e. the picture given with the words "the blood of the Lamb).

It's through this truth that He's worked a testimony in me that sin and satan have been destroyed in my life by faith in the power of Christ's death. This is why He came and why He's come again.

He's extending the opportunity to everyone that can hear to enter into His death and be raised into the fullness of His Life.