I got a call this week from Sandy Johnson. She is a long time customer of the CLC Bookcenter in Chestnut Hill and remembered me from my time there as the store manager. Apparently she had appreciated a book recommendation that I made to her in the past and she needed some advice. She had been talking to someone about what it meant to be a Christian and they asked her, “What happens when I die?” We chatted for a while and I was able to suggest three books that might help her with this conversation. Often a person will be willing to read a book and accept the truth of the message in ways that they may not from a face to face conversation, even with a friend. After we were done talking, it struck me that this is a fundamental question that all humans ask at one time or another in their lives.
Recently I was watching a PBS mystery show and one of the characters had begun attending church after a life time of never showing an interest in anything religious. The sharp detective who is the main character in the show made the quick assessment that the man must be dying or why else would he make this sudden change in behavior? All too often in our culture faith and a belief in God are portrayed as a naive response to uncertainly or a hasty decision only necessary at the end of life just “to be sure” in case there is a heaven or hell.
One of the wonderful characteristics of humans is that unlike animals we can actually envision a future for ourselves that is different that what we are currently experiencing. We are not limited by instinct and the cycle of nature, but can actually imagine a time when things could be better. It seems to me that we are born with a longing and a hunger for things to improve and that we all have a sense that things are not quite as they should be. For all too many around the world, their reality is so tragic that only a hope of a brighter day keeps them going in the midst of the pain and sorrow.
Occasionally, an entire nation like Egypt will erupt in frustration over the status quo, risking their very lives in the hope of a freedom and opportunity that have long seemed impossible to achieve. All too often, however, these human attempts to change they way things are in our world do not produce the results that are hoped for. A “free and fair” election brings an autocratic theocracy into power that is even worse than the government it replaces. A tsunami of good will and generosity after the earthquake in Haiti gets bogged down in the corruption and bureaucracy that was a daily part of the lives of people long before the earthquake ever happened. The micro loan program that seemed to be such an ingenious idea for helping millions of people escape poverty in India is now mired in scandal over a growing number of suicides from women who took multiple loans and were so deep in debt that this was the only way they thought that they could escape.
In the face of this, it is not surprising that some people have decided that the only “intellectually honest” response is to believe that there is no God and no place called heaven or hell. How ironic it is that so many of these same people have made well documented death bed professions of faith. In the end, the hunger that is within us all is a longing and a hope that only God can truly fulfill. Life on this earth is only a pale image of what is too come.
This past week, I got an e-mail letting me know that one of my dear colleagues is nearing the end of her life and that the chemo treatments that she has been receiving for her cancer will not ultimately cure her. She had suffered for many years with migraine headaches and is now enduring a painful decline at this stage in her life. Amazingly, Bonnie did not live a life of defeatism despite all that she faced and is one of the bravest people that I know. Her certainty of a life without pain in the presence of her Lord one day gave her the peace to live a life that has been a testimony to us all.
What this world needs is to know that there is only one ultimate hope and that is in the saving power of a resurrected Lord who will one day take us to be with him. As the book of Revelation says in chapter 7, “… he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”