Thursday, August 30, 2012

Not Dead Yet

For a week in August I was dying. The doctor solemnly informed my wife and me that he strongly suspected that I had pancreatic cancer. He was ordering a CT scan to confirm his diagnosis. He suggested we get people praying for us and assured us that he would also pray for us.

That was on a Tuesday - my wife’s 60th birthday - which certainly put a damper on the birthday celebration! Due to insurance and administrative snafus (and my allergy to the injection used for CT scans), it was not until the following Monday that I had the test performed; it was another 24 hours until I heard the results. So we began a week of waiting.

For that week I thought I was dying. It took only a quick internet search to confirm that pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of the disease. Seventy-five percent of those diagnosed with this disease die within a year. 96% are dead in five years. I was probably dead within months.

I grieved. I woke up in the middle of the night and wept for the grandchildren I would never see grow up. I cried alone in the dark. I hugged Jude and we cried together. I grieved for her loss; I grieved for our children’s loss. I remembered what it was like to lose my father to cancer when he was 64 years old.

I planned everything I needed to do to get my financial affairs in order. I talked to our son, the banker, about annuities for Jude. I did not want to make any definite decisions until the test confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis, but I was pretty certain I was as good as dead.

When the results came in, the doctor phoned immediately. My CT scan was clear. Except for a few minor issues (such as kidneys full of stones) I was healthy. At hearing the news my wife immediately fell to her knees in thanksgiving to God. Then she got on the phone to share the good news with our prayer partners.

I was relieved, but strangely I had no strong emotional response to the news. As I write this article three weeks (and one gallbladder surgery) later, I still remain stoic concerning my newfound longevity. 

Of course I am glad I am not dying of cancer. I hope to live many more years. In fact the forty pounds I have lost to this mysterious ailment (probably gall bladder disease) will likely increase my chances of living longer. My cholesterol levels have never been better!

I now view that week of dying as a gift from God. It is one thing to intellectually know one is mortal. It is another thing to emotionally experience imminent mortality … and live to tell the story. I received the gift of dying before I died. I had a near death experience, but without the bright light and angels.

My brief experiment in dying has helped me appreciate the emotional depths of those who are diagnosed with life-threatening illness. It has put things in clearer perspective in my life. It has helped Jude and I to cherish each day as a gift from God, to value our family, our friends, our community, and our church. Dying has helped me live.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Christ Alone

My life begins and ends with Christ. This is the only way I can describe my spiritual journey. Christ is the only reality of which I am certain. Christ alone is the Rock upon which I stand. He is my door into the transcendent reality that is God.

When theodicy causes me to doubt God, Christ is real. When the Scriptures seem unbelievable, self-contradictory and in places immoral, the figure of Jesus shines from them like a beacon. When the Church and church people betray Christian values, Christ never fails.

In my intellectual life I am continually reexamining my beliefs. Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” If that is true, then the old Athenian would consider my life very worthwhile. I question everything all the time. I am a Christian skeptic.

I accept nothing on blind faith. On Easter evening I would have lined up behind doubting Thomas to touch the wounds of Christ. Even then I would have thought Thomas too quick to believe his own senses! Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of this day by teaching them to question everything. He would have welcomed me as a co-conspirator. I never stop questioning.

Sometimes I wish I were not so distrustful of Christianity. How much easier my life would be as a pastor if I could just accept Church teachings on faith! How nice it must be to never question one’s religious beliefs or assumptions! I envy believers who never doubt and are absolutely certain of everything Christian. I am not one of them. I am certain of nothing … but Christ.

Time and again, when I come to the end of a rigorous bout of spiritual self-examination, Christ remains true. This Christ is not just a subjective Savior apprehended by personal faith; I am talking about the historical Jesus. When I ruthlessly examine the Scriptures with the most critical eye, I repeatedly come to the conclusion that Jesus is the real thing.

In particular Jesus’ resurrection is irrefutable. I have studied all the arguments of the atheists and radical Biblical scholars. When all the arguments have been examined carefully, it is clear that as far as we can know anything about the past through historical science, then we can know this: Jesus’ tomb was empty that Sunday morning. As improbable as it seems, the most reasonable explanation for the empty tomb is that Christ had risen from the dead.

If you doubt this is true, then I suggest you do your own investigation. Please do not take my word for it; I wouldn’t if I were you. Examine all the possibilities; look at all the evidence. Leave nothing out. As part of your search you might want to read a book that recently finished entitled “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics” by William Lane Craig, Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. He does a very thorough job of exploring all the relevant issues.

If this is true – if Jesus truly rose from the grave - that changes everything. It changes the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. It changes the historical arguments for Jesus’ miracles. It changes our understanding of death. It changes our hopes and dreams. It changes our lives. It changes my life – over and over again.