When my father was in serious pain at 90 years old, mildly drugged to deal with the agony and sitting in one of the booths used for triage in the ER at Providence, he would nod off briefly and suddenly wake up and yell my name. I can still hear his voice and see his face. “Brian! Brian!” His organs were failing and his skin itched violently all over his body. My job was to rub Vaseline lotion on the places that itched the most, usually his back. So far the three children (myself, my brother and my sister) had avoided allowing morphine to be administered because we had been told that he would die of respiratory distress in 48 hours if we did. As I sat there by his bed in that tiny space, just the two of us, it became clear to me that my Dad was dying. He needed serious pain relief. It was time for him to go. I asked, “Dad are you ready to die?” In a breathless and raspy voice, staring off into the distance at something unseen, he said “No.”
That bothered me. I am absolutely confident that I am ready to die. Mind you, I am not in any hurry and I expect to live another 30 years but when the time comes, I have no fear. If anything, I am immensely curious about what awaits through the eternal door. So was my Dad afraid? What was he afraid of? I’m not sure
Most likely, he wasn’t ready to pass because his pension was supporting my Mom who had Alzheimers and my sister who was the caretaker for both of them. Or perhaps he was afraid to face God? I don’t know.
What keeps the dying from turning their face towards God while sitting in Death’s waiting room? It is not some ridiculous argument that science has proven that God doesn’t exist. Ideas such as this are fine when nothing is on the line but vanish instantly when the grave lies open, awaiting you. No, that’s not what they ask. Usually, the question is a variation of “Does God love me and can He be trusted?” Fear. That’s why the dying ask this. At this point it sometimes helps to read John 3:16-18
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged (NASB)
That should do it but often there is another objection. “If God loves me then why did evil happen to me throughout my life? Why didn’t God stop it?” In other words, is God good? If He is good, then why is there evil? Maybe He doesn’t even exist. There are those who will curse God and deny He exists with their dying breath. Most people don’t. Instead, it’s the problem of evil. Why is there evil? Suddenly the dying are philosophers? Why do they ask this?
My guess is they rightfully fear the judgment of God. The enormity of a lifetime of sin rears up to stand between them and the love of God. “God loves you! Yeah? Why is there evil?” I think the question of evil is a diversion from the real issue: “I have done so much wrong and have ignored God for most of my life so there is no way that He will overlook my wickedness. My only hope is that maybe God doesn’t exist.” Actually, their only hope is Jesus. This is why we talk to the dying about Jesus and nothing else and no one else.
As for the philosophical question, the existence of evil and the great pain it inflicts on every human life is explained by human sin. The original sin of Adam and Eve brought evil and death into this world. Living in such a world is an absolute guarantee that evil will engulf us. We will experience it and we will commit it. The solution would be to eradicate it and it’s source. This means wiping out mankind. God did that once before with the great flood. Like a cancer hiding in the depths of the body, sin came roaring back once mankind reestablished itself on earth. This was to demonstrate that the problem lies in each of us. Not the creation, not our neighbor, not accident or chance but the source of evil lies in our free will. We need help! We need Jesus.
Romans 724 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
John 109 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture(NASB)
ps: It was my father who saw to it that his kids were introduced to Jesus at a young age. This plus many other evidences give me hope that he wasn’t afraid to die and face God but that he didn’t want to die just yet.