Death Defier

Some of my readers know that my husband had back surgery a month ago today to relieve pressure on a nerve that was causing him tremendous pain.  He had been declining rapidly after a fall in June, and besides the pain, was not doing well overall.  The surgery present a risk in two respects.  One, there is never a guarantee with back surgery that you will get the desired result.  But the greater risk was to his weak heart.  Both his primary doctor and cardiologist were grave in their warnings that surgery might not be a good idea.  The deciding factor for my husband as he questioned whether to proceed was an “Aha” moment when he related to me and my son: “I’d rather be dead and with the Lord than alive and in such pain.”  There was the answer, and off to surgery he went.

The surgery was a success…in fact it was a HUGE success!  Immediately upon awakening post-op, my husband was completely pain-free…no nerve pain, no pain even from the surgery itself.  Over the past month I have been accompanying him to his myriad of post-op appointments, where he has been stunning his doctors with his incredible recovery.  His cardiologist looked at him slack-jawed.  His primary doctor, a lively Hawaiian, laughed, slapped his leg and said, “You’re a death defier, that’s what you are!”

There is some whimsical truth to this.  My husband has now faced three very significant health “events” in his life, and like Thomasina the tabby cat in Disney’s 1964 classic movie (“The Three Lives of Thomasina,” based on the fable by Paul Gallico), he keeps beating the odds.

But the real truth is that there is a Death Defier who is responsible for my husband’s tremendously successful surgery and miraculous recovery.  Jesus Christ—the Creator-Word and miracle worker who proved his deity by raising Lazarus from the dead.  The omnipotent Alpha and Omega, who by virtue of his divine heritage, being of one essence with God the Father, played a role in his own resurrection from the dead.  When Jesus speaks, his voice is heard from one end of the cosmos to the other, and the universe obeys.  The word a month ago – October 27, 2013 – was that my husband would not die, but thrive.

Do I really believe this?  Yes, I absolutely do.

Over this past month, I have seen my dear, sweet man “come back from the dead” in numerous ways.  His body is slowly rejuvenating.  His humor and feistiness are no longer in retreat.  The light is returning to his eyes.  Last week we went to a restaurant for lunch, our first trip out for a meal in months.  He entered with his walker, but set it aside and walked gingerly to our assigned table.  Then, after we ordered and the server departed, he locked eyes with me and raised his arm in a challenge that goes back to our first date.  I grasped his hand—decidedly weaker than in days past but still filled with the electricity that cinched me way back then.

For however long this beautiful history lasts…the wrestling match is still on.

Hell

Even written in story form (see my last post), hell is an uncomfortable subject.  Our post-modern culture tends to either scoff at the idea of hell, or, if someone insists that hell is a real place, skeptics fire back that if God is good, He would never send anyone there.  So assuming God is good, is hell real?

C.S. Lewis in his famous work, “The Problem of Pain,” said this about hell:  “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.  But it has the full support of Scripture, and specially of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held in Christendom; and it has the support of reason.”

One of the world’s timelessly embraced themes is the concept of good conquering evil, and I think this is the “reason” about which Lewis referred.  Think back to the most ancient of times, before the creation of Adam and Eve.  The Bible tells us that Satan and the demons are in fact fallen angels, spiritual beings created by God Himself before the universe was formed.  Once powerful in the service of love and truth, these evil powers are now bent on evil and destruction.  Wouldn’t we all cheer to see the all-powerful, holy and benevolent God lasso up the devil and his posse of demons and throw them all into a corral where they would serve a “life” sentence of punishment for their wicked deeds…out of which they could not escape?   The Bible paints just such a picture.

Enter the human race, with its own capacity for evil.  We watch it on the world stage in the cruelty of certain dictators, but as the crime beat reporter for a newspaper, I was daily shocked to discover the wretched actions men and women are capable of.  Wouldn’t the same holy and benevolent God need to deal with the evil among us also?  And if that corral called hell is already in existence – intended for the devil and his minions – might it also be a suitable place for those human souls that fail to meet God’s holy standards of attitude and behavior?  According to the Bible, yes (Matthew 25, Revelation 20).

Jesus himself declared hell to be a place of “outer darkness” and “eternal punishment,” a place of “torment” and “unquenchable fire” likened to the Old Testament Valley of Gehenna (Hinnom) that many scholars believe was a perpetually burning garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem.  A powerful physical as well as visceral object lesson.

But even if it is not exactly the burning caverns depicted in cartoons, I believe hell will be a place of psychological and emotional torment as well as physical pain.  Besides the obvious anguish of getting to hell and realizing you were wrong about God, can you imagine being caged up in a never-ceasing battle against individuals ambitious to see their own self-serving agendas succeed?  How frightening would it be to perpetually live in a place devoid of beauty, filled only with ugliness and fearsome shadows?  What if you were an artist in life, but in death you find that while the artistic fire still burns within, all talent for expression is gone?  Or a scientist who discovers that the orderly nature of mathematical equations is suddenly replaced with nonsensical chaos in the afterlife?!

These analogies may sound far-fetched but they can be helpful.  Remember, John, in describing what he saw in Revelation, was writing about something he’d never seen before.  At such times, words can fall short.  So while we may snicker at John’s vision of a lake of fire, it is only because we have never seen a lake of fire and have a hard time picturing it.  However, we all can relate to ideas that define our own worst hellish nightmare.  And I suspect hell will be a lot worse than that.

Death of an Enemy

I got up early this morning, to knit for a while and consider Osama bin Laden’s death.  My own elation at the news, first delivered to us last night by my daughter, was palpable, and that makes me a bit squeamish.  Do I have the right to celebrate, albeit quietly, the death of another human being?

Osama Bin Laden was a mass murderer of thousands.  My heart breaks whenever I hear of even one innocent whose life has been taken by another…even if the dead is a stranger to me.  But for having killed fellow Americans on 9/11, Bin Laden is my own national enemy.  I am glad he is gone.  Is this a sin?Read More