04 Nov On Dying and Discipleship
We like to lump people into categories — nationality, race, social class, etc. One sociological study after another classifies, analyzes, dissects.
But one thing that all of us have in common is this: we are dying.
How much do we reflect upon this reality? On a day-to-day level, do we live as if our days will have no end? The Psalmists suggest that many of us do:
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.
But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.” (Ps. 39:5-7, NIV)
This last year, I’ve been honored to lead a group of pastors in congregational ministry through a series of colloquies focused upon this question: How can we cultivate genuine resurrection hope in congregations, in a day in which dying has become a medical experience? Funded by a Louisville Institute grant, we read books from doctors, theologians, and sociologists. We met with chaplains, hospital employees, and Christian scholars.
Some of the concrete fruit of this work is collected in a new issues of Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought, available for free online. All of the articles explore, in one way or another, what it would mean to make dying an act of discipleship. In a day in which we are tempted to hope in less than the astonishing resurrection hope in Christ, these articles give historical, pastoral, and theological reflections on how to recover that hope. I’ll close with a paragraph from my article in the issue:
All too often, the Western church bears rather feeble witness to the astonishing, cosmos-altering reality of Christ’s resurrection. Ironically, witness to that resurrection is muted because we push dying and death so desperately to the sidelines. As Harvard Medical School professor Atul Gawande points out, doctors usually are not trained to deal with the problem of death. And increasingly, Christians are not trained to deal with the problem of death either. How are we to bear witness to the good news of a New Creation hope if we believe the Kingdom of God is already completely here, giving us our best days now? Do we really ache for resurrection when we act as if medicine or a prayer for healing solves the problem of death until post-retirement? We can be tempted to imagine eternal life as an extension of our present lives, where we go to see Grandma and Grandpa and play some golf. But eternal life is all about Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was crucified and rose again, who will be worshipped in the coming age by all the nations.