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On Life and Death
Not For Sale
We have a new little baby in our house. Such a tiny creature, her cry is hardly a lamb’s bleat. Defenceless and so totally dependant on us for food, comfort and shelter. Her breath comes in little puffs, her pulse a barely imperceptible flutter. How can something so delicate be a separate living being?
Paranoia stalks me as I worry about myriad dangers tugging at my sleeves – I worry about car accidents, extremes of temperature, falling down the stairs with baby in my arms, and the evil terror of cot death. I pray that God will protect her in the knowledge that I cannot possibly shield her from all these things.
I see in the news that a two-week old baby was found abandoned in a forest in Kenya. Suffering from exposure and dehydration it was still alive after probably two days outside. My heart is torn as I think of the desperation which drives a poor starving mother to relinquish her child because she cannot possibly provide for it. What sort of a crazy unjust world is this where a baby born on one side of the planet is doomed to struggle for its very existence, while a baby on the other side of the planet will grow up never having to go without its basic needs?
Life strikes me as being so precarious – a situation where no-one can guarantee the outcome. Wars, pollution, sickness, starvation, and stress lurk at the door. Even in my comfortable society, death comes via electrical faults, inhaling peanuts, drowning in backyard pools and dams, children being knocked down in their own driveways. I could make myself insane dwelling on all the possibilities.
There is much to despair about in this sin-infected world. Paul says in the book of Romans that the whole earth is groaning, a slave to decay . The character Rick in The Young Ones liked to say that we are riding ‘a freight train to oblivion’. Without faith that God is ultimately in control it would be easy to agree with him.
But Martin Luther saw the positive side of mortality. “Even in the best of health we should have death always before our eyes [so that] we will not expect to remain on this earth forever, but will have one foot in the air, so to speak.” Death is not to be feared, in the grand scheme of things, for it draws us close to God, in dependence on Him, and in the assurance of a better life to come.
I go to the house of a woman who is dying. Bethwyn has cancer and will be gone in less than a week. Her husband Noel greets me at the front of the house. Inside, family members and visitors come and go. Cups of tea and cold drinks are offered, plates of nibblies are placed on the table. This is no house of mourning, but a celebration of life and community.
When my turn comes to have a few words with Bethwyn, Noel leads me down the corridor and off to the left to their bedroom. We walk through a sitting room where Noel and Bethwyn’s children – young adults – are singing songs of praise. Their voices flow into the bedroom and fill the air with hope. I learn later that Bethwyn is asked whether she is afraid of death. Her response is, “Oh, no – not at all! The Lord is with me.” This family rejoices in the time they have had to share, in the five years since Bethwyn has been diagnosed with cancer. Each day has been a victory, another blessing of life.
My mind goes back to a time when I stared emotional death in the face, living in the darkness of depression. At the end of each day I would cross it off the calendar – a sign of one more victory, to survive those 24 hours.
But there is much to rejoice in. Life is a struggle, but a rewarding one. Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Each positive event - the smile of a child, the sun glinting on dew-laden grass, a phone call from a friend, enough food in the cupboard for another week – tells me that God is good. God remembers me, and whatever may happen, I am safe in His arms.
written in 2005
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