‘Would you come to the hospital? As soon as possible, please? The doctor has said it is only days at the most. Her kidneys are shutting down and it may be only hours.’ I went, of course, expecting to see her fading in and out of consciousness, barely able to talk. Her husband holding her hand. Her adult children and grandchildren struggling to contain their emotions.
Yet in the palliative care room, there was her family … but they were sharing a well-worn joke. She was laughing with them, sitting up, and almost holding court. She’d had her hair done. And her daughter put some makeup on.
I’ll never forget her eyes and her smile as she welcomed me. There was a calm and gracious radiance about her. And I couldn’t help saying, as I took her hand, ‘you look gorgeous this morning. It’s as if you’re going to a party.’ She smiled. And I could see that her pain was intense, but she held it in.
We shared some small talk, and some serious reflections, but it came time to leave. If I had thought quickly enough, I would have read from Psalm 116:15: ‘Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.’ But I can’t remember what I read or prayed, overwhelmed by confused emotions – the reality of death, but also this dear woman’s faith and trust in her Lord Jesus for whatever was ahead.
At the funeral, a few days later, I shared a quote attributed to John Wesley, ‘Our people die well.’ Yes, Christians die well. For we die trusting Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. Not in a list of achievements and good deeds, but through the death of Jesus, by grace alone, right with God and ready for heaven. Dying well, looking forward to seeing Jesus. Does that mean we die free of pain? Not at all. There is still a ‘sting’ in death (1 Corinthians 15:55).
I remember, another time, the death of a godly man. There was a terrible struggle and intense pain at the end. And some of us there sensed the presence and triumph of evil in that room – but then, immediately after his last breath, a deep and abiding sense of the presence and the victory of Christ. It was the faith he lived by and had witnessed to medical staff and numerous visitors in the weeks prior, pointing them to Jesus. Our people do die well, even through great pain.
In those senses (only!) we believe in ‘eu-thanasia’ which means, of course, ‘well-death.’ A ‘good, easy,’ death. It is understandable that that is what so many want now. It is all that an unbeliever can hope for. A life living for self, and a pain-free death when there is no hope of recovery. Eu-thanasia. And then nothing.
But for Christians this debate is an unparalleled opportunity to talk about what really matters. In life, yes, and after death. For if there’s nothing to look forward to, then their euthanasia makes entire sense.
But in Jesus we die in hope: ‘as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor.2:9).”’
Those old hymn writers got it. Isaac Watts wrote:
I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath,
and when my voice is lost in death
praise shall employ my noblest powers;
my days of praise shall never pass
while life and thought and being last
or immortality endures.
– Rev. Andrew Campbell is a ‘retired’ Presbyterian minister and former state Moderator
(This article was originally published in Evangelicals for Life)