[Immortality of course belongs ultimately to the living God alone (cf. Ps. 90, etc), it’s not innate to every person born into this world, as for example the ancient Greek philosophers believed]
Human mortality is such a well-supported historical/biblical fact (Genesis to Revelation) and such a daily reality, yet surprisingly, most try and avoid thinking/talking about it at all costs! In the past 5 years I’ve undergone two major, life-threatening surgical interventions, which in a way forced me to get to grips with the reality of my personal mortality. At present I’m still very much trying to cope following quadruple by-pass surgery, accompanied by some on-going complications. My caring wife and I have been so heartened by the prayers of so many – our wholehearted thanks!
One major thing I can share from personal experience is that we need to learn early the lesson of Francois Fenelon and his ilk that the Christian life and service is all about dying to ourselves and embracing Christ’s cross (Mk. 8:34). In reflective times, I’ve had to say to myself repeatedly, ‘your ministry is not about you, Erroll, its about Christ and him alone!’ – therefore surrender all personal ambition immediately and let the glory go to Jesus. By grace there have been some positive results, but ‘ego’ dies hard. I think of the old hymn ‘The Way of the Cross Leads Home:’ this holds true not just for receiving God’s free gift of salvation (Jn. 3:16) but following Christ in true discipleship. (Mk. 8:34)
The other thing I am very slowly learning is that one cannot hasten the purposes of God. For me, at this moment, my main aim is not to become impatient but to be a daily blessing to my wife and family and reflect something of the grace of Jesus to those around me. I’ve not always been successful but hopefully there has been some progress!
In this journey of pain I’ve found that in the ecclesia believers so easily become condemnatory of others who are suffering in one way or another: you know the popular heresy ‘Christians should not feel depressed,’ etc.The reality is there are often doubts and fears that come our way, even as long-standing Christians. I often pray we could embrace a more Christlike God and human Jesus (D. Bonhoeffer). Trite answers don’t help. I’m reminded of the native American who said, ‘Do not judge your neighbor until you have walked two moons in his moccasins!’
Take for example the need for believers to minister TO JESUS himself: cf. Mt. 25:31-66, where Jesus as the Sovereign, Human One announces the judgment of all the nations which includes a final separation, brought about not by him but folk turning their backs on his Christ-Love. To the latter he dares to say, ‘Get away from me… I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat… thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink… a stranger and you didn’t welcome me… naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me…’ When some query his argument, he replies ‘when you haven’t done it to the least of these, you have not done it for me!’ (v. 41-45, CEB). Hmmm…
We see the same principle in Mt. 26:36ff (‘Jesus At Prayer’ in Gethsemane). Jesus is in deep, personal crisis: socially, emotionally and spiritually. “He said to his disciples, ‘Stay here while I go and pray over there’… ‘I am very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me…’ As he undertook to drink ‘the cup of suffering’ he asked the Father three times that he may be spared this torment, to no avail. And all this while his closest friends, whose companionship he was counting on, were repeatedly found wanting. Now it was too late… Would we have acted similarly? If so, Jesus had mercy on the ultimately repentant Peter, and so will he on us if we submit to his Kingship here on earth.
In conclusion, the best way to face our immortality is by being at home with God! Both now and in the future…
I relate the prayer-story of Richard Foster, Quaker theologian and author. In tackling a book on prayer, he was spending endless hours in the university library, late at night on his own. One night he was at the end of his tether and about to abandon his task when something happened! He ‘saw’ something, ‘What I saw was the heart of God, and the heart of God was an open wound of love.’ He heard a voice, that of the true Shepherd: ‘I do not want you to abandon the project. Instead I want you to tell my people, my children, that my heart is broken. Their distance and their preoccupation wounds me. Tell them, tell my children, to come home!’ By this Foster understood that the Father is calling us to turn from all our busyness, striving, pushing and shoving and ‘come home,’ to where we belong, to that for which we were created, home to the loving heart of God! We are to come into his living room, the kitchen, its chatter and batter mix – we are co-labourers with Him, working together for the outcome of events…’ In this interchange, prayer is of course key: hence the book title, ‘Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home.’
Is this not what Jesus was teaching in John 15, about the Father’s abiding in us and our abiding in him? ‘Abiding’ refers to being ‘at home,’ with other believers and chiefly with God. ‘Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me… Those who abide in him and I in them bear much fruit… whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers… If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you… If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love…’ (15:1ff/NRSV).
The apostle Paul likewise drives ‘home’ (pun intended) the same metaphor in his Ephesian Epistle, ‘This is why I kneel before the Father… I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith…’ (3:14ff). Dr. Rex Mathie (SA theologian) once equated it to ‘Christ being/feeling perfectly at home in your hearts’ by faith. He must feel perfectly comfortable in every nook and cranny: family life, our bedrooms, relationships, conversation, etc. The point is does he??
In conclusion, what a beautiful reflection of heavenly life we’re given by the prophet Isaiah long before coming of Messiah; take time to read it in Is. 65:17ff; whenever I despair of life on earth, I find it refreshing to ponder this passage from the prophet giving a realistic picture of life in our ultimate abode. Read it at leisure and let your imagination run…
And now a prayer…
You are still in my prayers Erroll. I shall keep this quote, it’s precious ” the best way to face our immortality is by being at home with God! Both now and in the future…”
Thanks a million, Gary.
Thanks Erroll for another timely piece. I have a friend who works in the undertaker business and remarks regularly about how brief life is. I spent three hours today with a man who lost his hand in an accident and a few months later was sick, wrongly diagnosed as meningitus when he actually had three major clots – and one thing is for certain – he says he looks at life differently now. May you experience healing and strength facing your own health challenges. Much love, much grace!
Thanks for your affirming comments, Dean, and for your good wishes. I often think of you and Cheryl and your challenging ministry in the Lowveldt. I need to pray for you more regularly.
Thanks for this, Erroll, I had heard “through the grapevine” that you’d had major heart surgery and I’ve been wondering how you are doing. You’ve been much on my heart. Tried contacting you by email but you must have missed it.
I remember years ago as a young man in my early 30s visiting an ancient friend who was in the hospital. She was 95, and had taken sick, and was not expected to live. It was such a heartache for me, because we often had such good fellowship together. She was an inspiration to me. I walked into her room knowing she was at the end. She saw me come in and beckoned me to come closer, and took me by the hand, and looked at me, and said, “I’m going home.”
She was one of whom it could well be said that she was about to change her location, but not her company. For she had spent the days of her mortality here being mindful that God be at home in her heart.
May we do the same, dear brother.
“A change of location, but not company.” Love that, Alan. Sorry I missed your email but it took a while for me to focus properly. Thanks for your concern, my friend.
Thank you, Errol. This is beautiful and deeply encouraging. We die daily, don’t we? What a blessing to know that God allows this to familiarise us with that great step into the other world. What we deem as suffering is nothing but a merciful and gracious reality check – a gift from God to his children to protect them from the horror of feverishly trying to hold on to this world at the end of one’s life, only to find it slipping away whilst descending into an unknown abyss. As the Psalmist reminds us, it is a precious thing to fall asleep in the Lord. To live is Christ; to die is gain. Hallelujah!
I can only say ‘Amen’ to your response, Tobie. Yes the psalms are a great blessing on the way. I read Ps. 90 and 91 recently and was both humbled and greatly comforted!
Thanks for travellng the road with me.
One thing that has come back to mind again and again during the pandemic is, “We’re all going to die. Will we die of Kovd? Probably not – but we might. Will we die today? Probably not – but we might.” The wise person is prepared for death whenever it comes. As you say, the way to do that is by “abiding” in the Lord – now and always.
Thank you for your affirming comment. Yes, let us be those ‘wise’ virgins in all seasons.
Warm greetings from Africa.
Thank you Errol for your message about our mortality and the reminder to draw near to Him always. I have come to realise that God is home, and that we will always yearn for home deep inside, even when we don’t realise it at first. And then when we truly discover home – when drawing near to Him – that joy and peace will dwell in us.
Sorry to hear about your health challenges. I will petition God for your health, and also that he will strengthen you emotionally and spiritually, and that but that you remain aware of his presence.
I’m wondering if this is the man I met in Wellington NZ a few years ago?? If so, great to hear from you. If not, good to hear from you anyway!!
Thanks for your encouraging comment, Andre, also for the assurance of your prayers. Yes, in all things, especially while recovery is tedious, I need to remain aware of God’s presence and know his strengthening!
Bless you and your wife, my friend.
Wonderful to hear from you Erroll, I’m sorry I did not realise what you have been enduring though my prayers have been going up to the Father for you. I can hear the Lord has been with you and of His goodness. We are in His keeping, glad He has you and your family. Donna
Yes, the Lord has been good to me all round. Good to hear that you two are well also. Grace and peace.
“…one cannot hasten the purposes of God.” Amen. We must resist that temptation to grab the reins…
I was reminded of a quotation I recently pondered, from the lips of blessed Corrie ten Boom: “And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things too. Don’t run out ahead of him.”
God bless you and keep you, brother.
Corrie was always so honest about herself and wise as a result – thanks for sharing that quote!
Thanks also for your good wishes.
Cordial greetings from down south.
Erroll! This was the first I heard or read of your heart surgery and journey. I certainly need to be more faithful to your blog! I would like to share my experience with hard covid (as short as I can make it) because what I learned about these physical journeys and challenges may apply here. If not, I am not offended for you not to post it to the blog. Covid just ran over me one night and I was flattened. Into the second day I was sitting on the edge of my couch sicker than I’ve ever been in my life and told God, I can’t do this. He responded, Then don’t. Let Me and My body hold you. So I let go and what I saw was like a tornado exploding the inside of a house with debri flying all over the place and me with it, just torn apart. That’s pretty much all I remember for the next three weeks. What I do remember is hallucinations and distortions of the things I saw. People would text me and I either didn’t respond or gave them a one liner. My son came from the state of Montana (two states away from us) and took care of us, determined to stay as long as it took. At the end of the three weeks I saw myself being held up by what looked like hundreds of arms. They were passing me, as it were, from person to person. I couldn’t see any of the ‘people’ just their outstretched arms hold me up. They were saying with so much tenderness, “Be careful. Don’t hurt her. Don’t hurt her.” Then they gently laid me on a grassy field where there was a cool wind blowing I raised up and looked around and thought, “It’s over. I’m going to be okay.” From that day to this I regained both my health and strength. Being a usually strong person in body and Spirit, this was a completely new experience. But I learned the power of the love of HIS body. They really did carry me and I am humbled and with an even deeper revelation how much we all need each other. Typing the words falls so short of the feeling within me as I type. Thank you for your faithfulness, Erroll. Know that I will now be one who stands with you in a greater way in Spirit. So I guess that’s it. Much love to you, brother, “BK” Zimmer
What a painful journey dealing with Covid, and what a beautiful descriptions of our good and kind Lord pulling you through! A powerful testimony all round. Though my experience was different, I could so easily identify with your bouts of feeling overwhelmed, hallucinations and mental distortions – frightening and disorientating! In answer to the intercessions of God’s people he sent you many angels to bring you His very own refreshing and renewing. God is most kind, today I went for a 1 km walk whereas previously I couldn’t walk 10 paces without becoming breathless. My wife stood by me all the way in this journey of 4 months, dressing wounds, etc, a real angel to me.
Good to hear from you, BK, and greetings from a warmer South Africa approaching Spring!