Friday, May 13, 2011

If I Should Die Before I Wake

“It has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1 Timothy 1:10, NIV).

If I should die before I wake…

by Steven Clark Goad

          Why are some of us afraid of the inevitable? I remember growing up as a kid saying my bedtime prayers. Is it cruel and unusual child abuse to teach a lad to think of dying just before bedtime? I had never thought of it like that until I reached adulthood. I wanted God to take my soul if I died in my sleep. I hadn’t even been baptized yet. I was five. I was eight. Then ten. “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Even after baptism I fretted and worried about dying in my sleep and maybe God not willing to “take my soul.”
          My wife has a Woody Allen view of death and dying. She can readily say, “I’m not really afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” She thinks dying while in surgery under anesthesia would be one of the best ways to cross over. I suppose that would be one way of not being there when it happens. She, and I, are not so much afraid of dying as of the process it often requires. Biopsies. Invasive surgeries. X-rays. Stiff joints and unremitting pain. Growing old isn’t for sissies. And growing feeble and in constant discomfort and with loss of memory only adds to the disquietude of it all.

Five Stages

          Whether or not one has read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ classic On Death and Dying, the stages leading finally to acceptance of imminent mortality seem to invade the mind of the dying. The first stage is denial. It is the notion that it can’t be happening to me. Or, that since I don’t feel badly, there must be a mistake in diagnosis. The next stage is anger. Why me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this? The third stage is bargaining. If I can only live to see my grandchildren. Let me live until the house is paid off. The next phase is depression that leaves one with the feeling of helplessness. Why bother. I’ll be dead soon anyway.
            Finally, the terminally ill will accept the inevitable and perhaps even find some satisfying level of peace that says death is just part of the cycle of life. God is in charge and everything will be okay in the long run. This may be the healthiest stage of dealing with terminal illness. It is a coming to terms with something that can’t be avoided.


          We live in a world of varying transitions. Death happens to be one of them. One of the most difficult periods in life is when a job change is made—or moving from one location to another, sometimes across the country, leaving family and friends geographically. Birth is also one of those traumatic crossings.
            If a baby in his mother’s womb could talk, he might say, “This is great. I love the warmth and protection of this hidden place where I live. I don’t think life could get any better.” But when the time arrives he is subjected to another existential mode of being that is frightening. Blinding light is forced upon him. The chill of being naked and wet outside the womb. It’s frightening crossing over like that. All one can do is weep. But eventually, nestled in his mother’s arms and feeding from her breast, an entirely new way of living is not only accepted, but embraced.

The Believer’s Hope

          One of the grandest truths from God’s word is that Christians never see each other for the last time. Our angst and sadness at the loss of a loved one is balanced by the knowledge that there is life after death. The resurrection of Christ is testimony to deity’s power over death. When we mortals put on immortality there remains no longer the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15). We die only to be given new bodies and new perspectives, plus the glory of the Lord’s presence.         
Every one of us is just a heartbeat away from stepping into a room full of angels. The very idea of it ought to make us smile. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us and then return again to receive us that where he is there we may also reside. The Lord keeps his promises. We need not fear death or when it arrives. Whether we live beyond our threescore and ten, or die in our youth, eternity will grip us and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

          Most seem to think it morbid to speak of our temporariness. We are, after all, and in spite of bad theology that says otherwise, mortals (1 Corinthians 15:53). Paul wrote to Timothy that only God is immortal. We have the hope of the resurrection and all the promises that go with it. A new way of living. New bodies. No pain. No heartbreaks. No more dying. Eons of foreverness in close proximity to the River of Life.
          Just trying to imagine the new heaven and new earth in my mind brings joy to my heart. I think of walking with my guardian angel and maybe even asking him where he was that day I almost drowned. Or strolling among the celestial flora and fauna with Moses or Paul or mother. As the song suggests, this world is truly not my home; I’m just passing through. A temporary sojourner am I on this lovely round blue marble spinning through space.

Growing Old Gracefully

          One couple I know [is anyone looking this way?] has been acquainted with many physicians in their area. With Parkinsons, diabetes, acid reflux, diverticulitis, cancer, arthritis, tinnitus, and a few other maladies, this couple is dealing with the rigors of growing older. I have a theory about old age. I believe our aches and pains remind us to get ready for the crossing over. One elder I sat with at his dying bedside told me he was so eager to make the journey to the other side that he was hoping for release that very night I was with him.
          Losing my mother at the age of 43 [I was 16] played havoc for a while with my sense of security. It upset my apple cart. I had a lover’s quarrel with my heavenly Father for a while after that. She didn’t have the privilege of growing older gracefully. Cancer took her before she could see her grandchildren. It didn’t seem right. It surely wasn’t fair. But looking back on it now I see that mother was relieved of the burdens of this life early on. Do only the good die young? I really don’t know. It’s doubtful.

Let Them Go

          My wife was the doting mother. She was hands-on in every way with our daughter. Did she spoil her darling girl? She denies it. She says, “Caitlin wasn’t spoiled; she was privileged.” No way will I argue the point. But as the perfect little darling matured and got into her teen years, guess what happened? Yes. There was a time when it was acceptable for her to leave home. College. Marriage. The only weeping involved tears of joy. How can a clinging mother let a child she would have died for move away from home? It was time.
          Not only do we let them go [friends, children, careers, homes, hobbies, life], but we learn along the pathway of living to let go ourselves. It’s okay. Letting go is part of embracing the gifts of God. As the baby discovered an entirely new perspective on life outside his mother’s womb, so we will regal in the joy of eternal bliss in a life with the Lord that was meant to be from the very beginning.

Don’t Be Afraid

          I admit it. For much of my adult life I was fearful of death. It may have been more the fear of the unknown than the fear of dying itself. But one thing I know now—God is true to his word. In my Father’s house are many rooms. And one of those rooms must have my name on the door. I look forward my homecoming. I have great expectations. Eternity is just ahead. Hallelujah anyway!

A Death of Ones Own, Gertha Lerner, Harper Collins, 1996
Beyond Endurance: When A Child Dies, Ronald Knapp, Schocken, 1986
On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross,  Macmillan, 1991
The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker, Free Press, 1997
Healing Into Life and Death, Stephen Levine, Anchor Books, 1987
How We Die, Sherwin Nuland, Knopf, 1994
Letting Go, Morrie Schwartz, Dell, 1997
The Psychology of Death, Robert Kastenbaum, Springer, 2000


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Who Will Hear My Confession?

“I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

Who Will Hear My Confession?
by Steven Clark Goad

            The Catholic Church encourages auricular confession to a priest. Though many other churches have not formalized confession into such a ritual as baring one’s soul to a clergyman in some confined quarters, some forms of confession within the church have been little different than with the confessional box. In many congregations an invitation is offered for those who need to come to Christ, or confess sins, or be restored. Someone may typically walk the aisle and share with the preacher or elder his sin. Often it is shared (minus the details) with the congregation by someone other than the one confessing. Is this not a form of auricular confession? Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “People think the confessional is unknown in Protestant churches. It is a great mistake. The principal change is, that there is no screen between the penitent and the father confessor.”
            Confession takes on many expressions. To those who trust in the Lord confession of faith in Christ is a constant profession and lifestyle. Jesus taught that those who confess him before others will be confessed by Christ to the Father. This is comforting to all disciples. In law enforcement the obtaining of a confession by someone who has broken the law is considered weighty evidence in a court of law. Lovers confess their undying devotion to each other. But, more importantly, those burdened by sin must have somewhere to turn with contrite hearts. Acknowledgment of sinful behavior is primary for the penitent soul. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Lifestyle Confession
            Those who walk in God’s will and grace are eager to confess failures and shortsightedness. Those of us who have been born again are aware of our innate human natures. Selfishness seems to be a part of our spiritual DNA. We tend to do what makes us feel good, and often feel-good matters aren’t very spiritual. So in our “un-goodness” we struggle to be good and in so doing we acknowledge our blunders and outright disobedience. Knowing that God sees all and is aware of what we think as well as what we do, it is rather silly to think that somehow we can keep God in the dark regarding our carnal natures.
            God knows we aren’t perfect. The Law of Moses made it abundantly clear that humankind was unable to live up to the perfect standard of Father God. This is why our Savior took our place at the cross. The only perfection we might obtain is vicariously through Christ. Thus the conditional “if” is provided, perhaps the biggest two-letter word in the English dictionary. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This verse is a powerful affirmation from God that continual confession is purging and conciliatory.

A Sign of True Faith
            The early believers were confronted with the teaching of the apostle and the working of the Holy Spirit among the people. They observed the power of God with their own senses and were instilled with faith in the gospel that was being taught. “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds” (Acts 19:18). To accept Jesus as Lord meant one had to divest himself of his excuses for sin. One living for Jesus could not longer continue in sin that grace might abound. He is no longer in the sinning business.
            Sam had been unfaithful to his wife for three years. He had an ongoing relationship with his secretary. Both Sam and his wife were Christians. Sue trusted Sam in every area of his life. He was devoted to the children. He was a good breadwinner and generous to a fault. His deaconship with the church allowed him to supervise the benevolence committee. The marriage looked like a storybook love story. But Sam and God knew better. A revival meeting got Sam’s attention. One of the lessons seems aimed directly at him. He repented of his infidelity at that meeting, but had other matters that needed attending to. Though it required great determination, he confessed his affair to Sue not knowing whether it would destroy his family or not.
            Sometimes confession isn’t easy. It exposes to others how very selfish we can be. To allow our worse behavior to be made known to those we harm calls for tremendous soul-searching. To acknowledge embezzlement might send one to prison. To confess an adulterous affair could easily destroy a marriage. But what is the alternative for a Christian? There is none. Living with deceit is not walking in the light. Thus, confession is good for the soul.

Confession & Salvation
            Every Christian is a sin confessor. One cannot become a child of God, born of the water and the Spirit, apart from penitent confession. At Pentecost Peter required confession from those who were pricked in their hearts by the good news of Savior Jesus. He told the believers that day to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Confession of sins is a prerequisite to repentance. One cannot repent without confessing the need for redemption. And that need involves sin and its consequences. “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Matthew 3:6).
            From the moment we accept the mercy of God in the story of our risen Lord, we become confessors of our failings and sinful ways. Not only do we confess to God who knows of our sins even before we think of them, but we also confess to those we betray and abuse by our selfishness. Parents must learn to confess to their children when they are unduly harsh or make glaring mistakes in their presence. Children should be in an environment whereby they may eagerly confess disobedience to parents. Mate to mate. Brother to brother. Sister to sister. Living with the guilt of sin is a painful lifestyle and takes it toll on body and spirit. Divesting ourselves of the yoke of sin is refreshing and enables us to walk in the light and know our salvation is sure. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

The Missing Snickers
            It was warm and humid that July summer day in Indianapolis. Mikey O’Conner, the good Catholic kid from across the street, and I were playing basketball. I invited him into the house. Dad has just purchased a package of twelve Snicker candy bars. He put them in the freezer. Why he did that I didn’t analyze, but on a sweltering day it seemed wise and I shared my bounty with Mikey. He enjoyed his candy bar. I enjoyed mine. Mikey finally went home. I got another Snicker and devoured it in record time, in spite of it being frozen.
            Supper is finished. Sis and I are doing the dishes. Dad goes to get a Snicker for dessert and finds them all missing. “Stevie, where are the Snickers?” Silence. Total, heart-stopping silence. At the time I was enjoying my treats I wasn’t fully aware of the consequences that would ensue. Dad asked again. I stuttered a bit and finally said, “Mikey was over today and ate them all.” Silly! Stupid!! Parents know when kids are lying. God knows. Father Goad knew. Had it not been for mother I think my father would have whipped me senseless that evening. He could probably smell peanuts on my breath.
            Confession. It came quickly and completely. Full disclosure was my only hope. “I ate them, dad. Mikey only had one. I had two, then four, then the rest. I’m sorry. They just tasted so good. I couldn’t help it.” Oops! Don’t lie when confessing. I avoided a whipping that evening, thanks to mom. But I have a lesson learned that has stuck with me all these years. Deceit is not the path to take as a child of God.

            Confession unshackles the soul. The heavy load of un-confessed sin is destructive and robs us of our zest for living. Oscar Wilde said, “It is the confession, not the priest, that gives absolution.” I get his point. But it is really God who gives absolution. Confession just puts his promise of forgiveness into action.
            Confession of sin comes from the offer of mercy. Mercy displayed causes confession to flow, and confession flowing opens the way to mercy. If I have not a contrite heart, God’s mercy will never be mine; but if God had not manifested his mercy in Christ, I could never have a contrite heart. We must never fear confession and run from it. Rather, we should embrace it as part of the ethic by which we live.