BY SCOTT SAULS | MARCH 20, 2020
As I write this, the world is overcome by uncertainty and fear. Some fear for their financial future, others, for their health. Some fear for their loved ones, others, for themselves. It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it, what the spread of a microscopic virus can do to alter the landscape?
Whatever our situation at this time, and whether or not COVID-19 wreaks havoc on our lives or not, one thing is certain: we all will die. In fact, we are all — each and every one of us — DESTINED to die, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
And yet, whatever our situation, the people of Jesus possess in them a hope that transcends the awful, ubiquitous reality of a mortality ratio of 1:1. At our church, this hope is echoed loudly in the lyric of a hymn we cherish. Regarding the New Heaven and New Earth that is ahead of us, we sing:
“No chilling words nor poisonous breath
can reach that healthful shore, (where)
sickness, sorrow, pain, and death
are felt and feared no more.”
“Felt no more” sounds wonderful when we’re talking about sickness, sorrow, pain, and death, does it not? This, of course, is an impossibility in the world in which we now live. However, based on the great and precious promise of God, there is even now — this very moment — the possibility of “fear(ing) no more” when it comes to sickness, sorrow, pain, and death.
We are told that at the end of days, when King Jesus returns for a second and final time, he will make all things new. Our future, from that point forward, will represent an utter, complete, everlasting reversal of sickness, sorrow, pain, and death. As John, the beloved disciple, has written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “There will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away, and everything made new” (see Revelation 21:1-5 for the full accounting of what awaits us).
As the pastor of a marvelous church that is filled with people — including many elderly, “Greatest Generation” people who make up about 15% of our fellowship — as well as other, younger saints who somewhere along the way received news of a terminal diagnosis, who have accessed these promises of God that cast out fear.
What follows is a brief telling of how those afflicted saints, young and old, are made to FEEL some of the worst of what a fallen world throws at people, but without FEAR because of the perfect love that holds them. I hope that their stories and perspectives offer you similar hope as they do to me.
Over the years, I have walked alongside men and women who have faced death with bitterness and despair. I have also walked alongside men and women in the same circumstances, but with a settled peace in their hearts, joy on their faces, and certain declarations about how their best days are still ahead of them.
At Christ Presbyterian Church, the family of believers in Nashville that I get to serve as pastor, there are scores of people who have endured deep sorrow and loss and who have done this exceptionally well. It’s not that these men and women have denied suffering or somehow swept its awfulness under the rug. Instead, they have looked suffering square in the face with the same gusto as the Apostle Paul when he says, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55), and, with similar conviction:
“We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
One such person was a man from our church named John. John lived a full and beautiful life as a faithful husband, a loving father, a true friend, a gifted artist, and loving servant of our church. At an age that seemed far too premature, John was diagnosed with ALS, a condition that incapacitated him physically, confined him to a wheelchair and breathing machines, and eventually took his life.
I would sometimes visit John in his home during his decline. For me, these times with John gave new meaning to Paul’s reflection on his own suffering—that, although the “outer man” may be wasting away, the “inner man” is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
John did not give in to despair as his body wasted away from disease. Rather, he faced his situation with remarkable joy, thankfulness, and poise. Though frustrated by the pains and losses associated with his illness, he didn’t allow himself to be defined by them. Though he was in great pain, John never grew cynical. When he ate through a straw and food dripped down the side of his face, instead of cursing he would crack a joke. When his nurses and helpers arrived to treat his physical needs, instead of demanding that they do this or that, he invited them to join him for Bible study. When I and others went to his home to pastor him, he would end up pastoring us.
John’s attitude and lightness of being, especially considering the suffering he was forced to endure, made such an impression on me that I finally asked him how he could face suffering with such an admirable poise. His simple and immediate answer was:
“Well, that’s easy. I’ve been a Bible reader all of my life. Somewhere along the way, I guess it all sunk in.”
When John said these words to me, it gave new meaning to something Charles Spurgeon once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”
Horatio Spafford wrote the hymn It Is Well With My Soul after several of his children were lost at sea. He was a man who knew suffering. That hope-filled hymn was born from pain. Whenever we sing that Scripturally-rich song together at church, I look around to see how it is impacting our people. Almost without fail, those who sing the hymn with the most gusto are the sufferers. This includes people like John with his ALS, Rob with his newfound widower’s status, Jan and Susan and Al with their cancer, Sarah with her chronic fatigue, scores of men and women with their anxiety and depression, and the dozen or so mothers and fathers who, like Horatio Spafford and his wife, have endured the unthinkable experience of burying their own children.
What enables these afflicted souls to keep singing? What empowers them to keep hoping, to keep believing, and to keep pressing forward in the face of gut wrenching, heart-breaking, life-busting circumstances? It is the truth that they have discovered in Scripture, and it is the animating work of the Holy Spirit pressing this truth into their hearts and lives.
God is who he says he is, a good Father who will never allow us to be separated from his love, because the Bible tells us so (Romans 8:31-39).
Jesus is a faithful Savior and Friend, and he is making all things new in spite of the way things may seem…
…also because the Bible tells us so.