Wineskins Archive

February 5, 2014

Death is Over (Nov-Dec 1999)

Filed under: — @ 7:00 pm and

Rubel Shelly
November – December, 1999

“And death? Where is it?” He searched for his accustomed fear of death and could not find it. Where was death? What death? There was no fear because there was no death. Instead of death there was light. “So that’s it!” he exclaimed. “What bliss.” All this happened in a single moment, but the significance of that moment was lasting. For those present, his agony continued for another two hours. Something rattled in his chest; his emaciated body twitched. Then the rattling and wheezing gradually diminished. “It is all over,” said someone standing beside him. He heard these words and repeated them in his soul. “Death is over,” he said to himself. “There is no more death.” He drew in a breath, broke off in the middle of it, stretched himself out, and died.
-Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Along with my mother and two brothers, I sat with my father as he died. I was holding his hand and monitoring his pulse. His heart gave one last, definitive beat – a giant beat against the slight ones of the last hour or two. We looked at each other through tearful eyes and affirmed that a victory had taken place. “My daddy has seen angels now!” was my first thought.

Only a week to ten days earlier, my father had told me, “I’ll miss mother and you boys, but everything I have to look forward to now is on the other side.” He was right. Pancreatic cancer shows no mercy. God does.

Now my brothers and I are standing by helplessly as our mother is being taken away by Alzheimer’s Disease. It is more cruel than cancer in some ways, for it leaves a physical shell that functions without intention or awareness. As I write these lines, she has not recognized me for fully five months.

By the time you read these lines early in the year 2000, perhaps she will have died. Oh, I hope she will have died – and pray every night now for her not to wake up the following day. She cannot be helped by medicine or tender care. Only God can heal her, and her healing requires that she die and go to be with him. As with our father, the three children who will likely survive her (though life for anyone is fragile!) will grieve – but not as those who do not have hope.

We believe, you see, that death is over. It is not a terror. It cannot have the last word. Is there something inherent to the human heart that tells us there is life beyond mortal flesh, disease, and the grave? Perhaps an “eschatological impulse”? Maybe.

But the proof of immortality is not in our desire to believe it or in some proclivity to believe in it. After all, my desire to believe that I have $10 million on deposit in my bank account does not make my check good. Even a penchant for thinking it so based on poor data or careless reasoning adds nothing to my account.

Whatever else you have heard about the good or evil of post-modernism, it is a distancing from what we call “modernity.” Modernity assumed that we humans were masters of our own fate and that we could rely on science and technology to teach us the source, meaning, and right conduct of human life. Reason would triumph! Postmodernism embraces a humility far more appropriate to our true place in the cosmos. We are not sovereign and reason is not ultimate. Our arrogance has not only failed to define our essential humanity but has frequenlty demeaned it.

Postmodernism says that whatever is most essentially human about our identities lies outside ourselves. So people are unabashedly on a spiritual quest in this generation. And strong affirmations of faith that are grounded in history and capable of reaching into eternity with confidence will receive a hearing by this generation.

The reason I know death is finished is that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and was raised up on a Sunday morning – on or about April 9 in the year A.D. 30. He appeared to Simon Peter, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 persons at one time. And there were other witnesses as well.

It was not wishful thinking, mere eschatological impulse, or delusion. It was history. It was Easter. And it is the basis for all our hope for victory over death, addictions, debilitating pain, and whatever else would make us hopeless.

Easter is a fact that can only be traced to supernatural activity. It is the fact that defines all else in time and eternity.

Because Jesus is alive, the darkness has yielded to the light. There is no more death. Death, thank God, is over!Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

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