The Subject Turns to Death

January 15, 2014

One does not encounter a diagnosis of cancer without at some point thinking about where it might lead. I’m talking about death, and my thoughts drifted in that direction around Christmas time when it wasn’t appropriate to write about it. But the time has come to address an issue that cannot be avoided, because we will all face this reality some time.

First, though, let me reassure you of some things:  my thoughts are not turning morbid, nor am I in any doubt about the course of my treatment. Nothing has “happened,” per se, to get me thinking about death other than what I will share with you openly as this series develops in the next few days. I am not depressed; I am not giving up the daily grind against the Beast. I am, in fact, doing great! I do not feel sick (praise the Lord for all the medical support that is working), and actually feel much better than I did in the weeks before we figured out what was making me cough. Yes, I am undergoing chemo this week, which wipes me out, but I am moving in the direction of healing and feeling great about that! So no need to worry that Pastor Mary is sinking into a hole by writing about death; quite the contrary, my spirit is soaring.

There is a reason why the psalmist, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would write, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones” (Psalm 116:15), and Solomon, too, would note “. . . the day of death [is better] than the day of birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). Jarring as these statements might seem to a person in the throes of death or dying, they simply point to God’s perspective on our transition from this temporal life to the next, eternal life.

It all started in the garden, when Adam and Eve fell from grace (Genesis 3). The ultimate consequence of their rebellion against God was to be ejected from Paradise and to lose access to the Tree of Life (3:24). What this means is that humanity was no longer immortal; our bodies were now subject to physical death. The grace embedded in this sentence is this: God did not want us eating from the Tree of Life while in our sin, to be forever locked into the condition of alienation from God. Cast out into the world, human beings have the opportunity to abide in the knowledge of God while undergoing the stresses, diseases, and toil of everyday life. The end of this life is physical death, after which we may, if we have embraced Christ, enter into eternal life free of crying, mourning, pain, and death (Revelation 21:4). Even God is looking forward to that, for our sakes!

The apostle Paul himself lived in two worlds, about which I wrote in November upon the sudden, unexpected death of my good friend Henry Greene. To live awhile longer is to make Christ known some more, while to die is one’s personal gain. Paul had a clear vision of life in eternity and looked forward to it. But he also knew that leaving (that is, dying) would cut short his earthly ministry. The timing of the transition was up to God, but it was not to be feared.

I realize that many of my readers may not be in a place of caring about the subject of death at this time. My intent is not to force you into consideration of its power and preciousness, in which case you might want to wait a few days before coming back to my blog. But I would suggest that talking about it is going to help, because whether we admit it or not, death lurks in the back of our minds and motivates us in one way or another. Whether we fear or embrace the inevitability of our own deaths, it is an event that is going to happen some time in our future. Bringing the Word to Life also means Bringing the Word to Death, so I am hoping that you stick with me as we explore what that means and the doors it opens.



12 Responses to “The Subject Turns to Death”

  1. Bruce Pope Says:

    One of my favorite GM quotes….The Utility of Death Wherein then lies the service of Death? …In this: it is not the fetters that gall, but the fetters that soothe, which eat into the soul. In this way is the loss of things … a motioning, hardly toward, yet in favor of, deliverance. It may seem to a man the first of his slavery when it is in truth the beginning of his freedom. Never soul was set free without being made to feel its slavery. P.S. ah..the tyranny of things!

  2. L. Lee Says:

    The early church leaders and writers of the New Testament had a theme that appears over and over again: Jesus would come again at the close of the age. We tend to gloss over these passages, but this view of the second coming did change the boldness of these early believers. The very real and imminent realization of this brought about an urgency to alert their readers and themselves to not be complacent in their faith nor be complacent to hang on to The Lord. Do you think the realizatIon of death has a similar affect?

  3. Debbie Berkley Says:

    I first read the Narnia books in 1970, when I was 20. When I read the last book, “The Last Battle,” I lost all my fear of death. Lewis depicts so beautifully what it may be like to enter into the new Jerusalem after we die. Farther up and farther in! It brings tears to my eyes to think of it: tears of joy, the kind you have when you hear gloriously beautiful music that is so beautiful that you have no words to express how you feel about it. Yes, I want to stay in this world, to be with my beloved family, to watch my grandchildren grow. But what could be better than to be in the absolutely most stupendously glorious place in the world with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who loves us so much that he wants to wipe every tear from our eyes? Because of Jesus Christ, if we put our faith in Him, it is win-win.

  4. luv2latte Says:

    Reverend Mary, You don’t know me. I have been following your blog for several weeks now. Suzanne Brown Zampella was a college friend many moons ago and we have reconnected through Facebook. (I have not seen Suzanne since 1984 or 1985, I think.) At any rate, one day I noticed that Suzanne had recommended your blog to another friend and I took a look and have been following you since. I think the draw was that my sister lost her battle to cancer in November 2012 and in the wisdom of hindsight I have felt that I did not do enough to support her during her illness. (She lived in another state.) I’ve been on a quest to better understand and make sense of her illness. I know cancer will come into my life again. . . and I want to do a better job of being there and lifting up whoever it is. Your writing has drawn me in and I have joined the ranks of your prayer warriors. But, today I wanted to “speak” to you.

    We (Americans in general) don’t talk about death enough. As Christians, we talk about the resurrection and the afterlife, but we don’t talk about death in a way that is particularly helpful, especially for the ones left behind grieving and trying to move forward with their lives. We will all die and we need to do so fearlessly. But, we also need to discuss what we are experiencing so that we see death as a part of life.

    I enjoy your writing and appreciate your bravery in approaching a subject that makes many people uncomfortable. I am cheering you along from an anonymous sideline. Thank you so much for being so open and sharing. In my humble opinion, I think you are awesome.

    Hugs and hope, Miriam Virginia Beach, VA William and Mary 1984

    Sent from my iPad

    • revmary Says:

      Thank you for writing, Miriam. It is indeed a blessing to find out how my blog is received and to reap the benefits of your prayers.

  5. Pat Williams Says:

    Right on, Mary! Like Paul, we’re praying He leaves you for further ministry, but right now this “new” ministry of yours is probably one that will bless VERY many people whom you encounter at each of your treatment visits!
    God bless you!!!!

  6. Sarah Says:

    Yes, cancer does make one come face to face that our days may be more limited than one had once thought. It also made me much more aware of how precious and fragile life is. Even though I know of my relationship with our Lord, I still did not want to go through the pain of death, still don’t want to, as illness comes with various forms of suffering, but neither did I want to say goodby to family, friends and life, even though I believe there is something way beyond our understanding that waits for us. Hindsight, and the distance of 9 years since the last chemo has shown me that those clear thoughts concerning death have gotten fuzzy as time goes by……but I find I still have a different set of thoughts about death than I did before cancer. It does not have the fear it once had, but I still want to experience many more years to come. Do I want to go through cancer again, No. Did I benefit from the experience, Yes, it sorted out my priorities, gave me a much better outlook on life and what is really important.

  7. Rev. Bruce W.H. U5ich Phd Says:

    I have not written you before and have been accessing these articles (and many previous ones) through Presbyweb and have been very appreciative of your thinking.
    (81 years old, pastor for 55 years and now twenty five years Stated Supply at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Orlando and fifteen year Dean of Florida Christian University and Florida Theological Seminary and I have Parkinsons and a bad arthritic hip.)

  8. LaVonne Niccolls Says:


    Dear Mary,   I do hope you are keeping these excellent articles and will seriously consider putting them in “book form”.  You continue to be in my prayers. LaVonne Niccolls

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