If it is only for this life that we have hope in life, we are to be pitied more than all men. I Cor 15:19
My mother is a healthy 83, vigorous, vital and cheerful. This past Sunday we were together at an Advent Service, with the church youth presenting a beautiful chorus from the choir loft. Catherine, my daughter, herself a new mother, was with us as well. After the service, my mother turned to my daughter and said, “That made me sad tonight. I realized that I may not live long enough to see Elaina sing in that choir.”
It is good to face our mortality. We as doctors face the death of so many of our patients over the years and usually do so with a combination of sincere compassion and Osler’s equanimities. Like many Christians, we spend years in our churches believing that death leads to life, yet somehow avoid coming face to face with the possibility that we might be wrong, that it all may be a fairy tale, a hopeful wish that we project into our future. Apostle Paul understood such a possibility:
“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen in sleep in Christ are lost. If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
“If” means we could be wrong.
But “if” is where faith grows. “If” makes us reflect on our lives and look back to where God has touched us. “If” requires us to remember the times that God has been more real than life itself to us, to times when He has come through in delivering us from danger, sin or brokenness. “If” allows us to look around at great Christian witnesses and weigh their witness against our fears. “If” drives us to pour over the Scriptures and find God’s Spirit speaking to us there.
When Paul faces the “if” and weighs it against his own encounters with God, he settles the issue with a confidence strong enough to cry out, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Why does it matter that we face our mortality? Partly it is so we can move from “if” to faith. This coming to faith from within our doubts gives us a stronger hope in times of despair. Also, it changes the way we see our patients and colleagues; for, as we become confident of our own life after death, then we become cognizant that each of our patients and each of our colleagues is immortal through Jesus Christ, and that God may choose us to show them the way toward that immortality with Him.
Remind me of Your great works and great presence in my life so that I may face the future with great trust and a bold testimony. Amen