Face It: You're Going to Die . . . and Then Rise

The Intersection of Faith and Medicine

People of faith seem to have trouble exercising that faith when they enter the hollow halls of medicine. Medicine only offers hope in limited categories. We discern the state of our health based upon the optimistic or pessimistic prognostications that the medical system offers.

I think those categories are insufficient for us to be able to embrace life fully. Often, the way people look at life is somewhere between optimism and pessimism. I recently heard it that said an optimist believes that this is the best of all possible worlds. And a pessimist fears that that's true.

There, you see no place for a Christian's hope in the resurrection. And yet, it seems like when we enter into the healthcare system and try to deal with our health and wellness without our faith, those are the options we're left with.

Somehow, if the church is going to help, one of the things it has to do is work more diligently at preaching resurrection—facing death, preaching on death, and helping its people to practice resurrection on a daily basis, to actually understand it in a more functional way.

Though the early church had different terms for it, I think they actually had the same struggle with how to the approach to the resurrection. In one sense, there was the idea that the resurrection would never come. In 2 Peter, there were scoffers who said, What are you waiting for? The resurrection's never going to come. That sounds like a very pessimistic attitude, but the early church was dealing with that.

If the church is going to help, one of the things it has to do is work more diligently at preaching resurrection.

The alternative to that is to think that the resurrection has already come, and this perspective is found in the New Testament in 2 Timothy and 2 Peter. There were false teachers who were saying that the resurrection had already happened. I think a great danger for those of us who live in such a technically capable world is that we actually think that this world is our home.

But, none of these things can bring Christian hope.

Awaiting Resurrection

The third option found in the New Testament is to eagerly await the resurrection. There's a word in Greek called apekdechomai and it means to eagerly await or have an eager expectation for. You only find this word in a handful of places in the New Testament, but it shows up in Romans 8 in the verses about the groaning of creation, and the groaning of our bodies. The text says that we are eagerly awaiting the redemption of our bodies. I think the church is going to have to rise to the occasion, and help its people to have that attitude toward the resurrection.

That's what the church should say, but maybe what's more important is what the church does. When I was young in the faith and living in New York City, I joined very small church of maybe 50 or 60 people. There was an elderly woman in the church named Grace, and she was disabled. She had some sort of spinal deformity, wore a neck collar, and was also blind. She came to church all by herself, Sunday after Sunday.

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One Sunday, she got baptized. A short time after that, Grace contracted a terminal illness, and she got sicker and sicker, until finally she was admitted to the hospital. She only had a few days to live. What really impressed upon me as a young person in the faith was the church who posted a vigil for Grace in each of her remaining hours. They set up a rotation for someone in the church to be by her side until she died. Being a part of that was an amazing way for me to see how the church functions.

It also bore a witness to the hospital staff. They were completely entranced and enthralled, wondering, Wow, what kind of a church is this? It communicated that the church can do a lot to help people, both by what it says, but also by what it does—both communicating that no one should ever die alone and the church really has a responsibility and capability of making sure that doesn't happen.

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