When my father’s brain tumor was pronounced inoperable, and we knew that his death was approaching, most of the people in our family reacted predictably. Some were angry; others were in denial; many wept. There was one big exception: me. My emotional response shocked my brothers and sisters, and even surprised me. It was joy.
I consider myself a logical thinker, and I think most people would agree that I’m fairly geeky. When I respond to a situation emotionally, I usually manage to suppress it! I try to think of how I should respond, and adjust my behavior accordingly. But I wasn’t able to change my feelings on this one.
Responding to a terminal diagnosis with joy seems inappropriate, but I couldn’t stop thinking that way. Sure, I had periods of grieving, and wept along with others in my family. But in my mind there was always an undercurrent of excitement about the new life that my dad was about to start.
Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
–1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (NLT)
I’ll never forget the thrill of leaving home at the age of 17 to go to college. Sure, I had great parents, and I loved my family, but I could hardly wait to venture out on my own in a whole new world where anything might happen. My high school experience had been unsatisfactory in several ways, and I was excited to have a fresh start. And I was right – I had four wonderful years of college.
For me, Dad’s transition to the next world – which I believe to be eternal life in the presence of Jesus – was something like what I felt about going to college. But it was so much more! This was a thrill beyond measure. I have to admit – I was envious of him. He was too sick, and I was too nervous, to ever talk to him about it. But he talked to my mom, and she told us what he said. He was scared at first, but then he got to the point where he was eagerly anticipating the next phase of his life.
My dad’s attitude had a profound effect on my mom. It took a while, but eventually she got to the same place, emotionally. What a difference that has made in her life! Her grieving process was healthy and complete. She is doing well.
Recently a friend has learned that she has stage 4 cancer. At this point it’s not yet clear whether it is operable. She is still in the middle of her journey. She may be healed, or she may not. But she has no fear of death. She is responding logically and peacefully. But her family is full of anger and grief. They are not handling the situation well. And some of them are upset with her because she is not sharing their negative reactions. It’s causing a strain within the family.
I find it interesting that so many Christians, who should believe in eternal life, have such a negative response to death, especially when it has been placed in their personal futures. The anticipation is very difficult.
But if we believe that we are immortal – that when Jesus said “He who believes in me shall never die” He was speaking the truth – then I can’t understand a response that is mostly denial, anger, or debilitating grief. We can’t always decide how we’re going to feel, but we can focus on the truth instead of indulging our weakness. And that’s how I’m praying for my friend’s family.