The Last Enemy, Reprise

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)

This week my mother was admitted into a hospice house. Mom is very weak, but alert and aware of her surroundings. She can’t even roll over. Breathing is hard for her. She has to do it intentionally, which is uncomfortable and tiring. She told me and others she is ready to go and be with Jesus. She’s not speaking in a metaphor or feigning false hope. Faith is natural to mom. She knows whom she has believed.

Mom has been slowing declining for some time now. My two sisters spent much of last year taking care of our parents in Ohio. That’s been a huge commitment because they normally live with their husbands (and pets) in North Carolina and Wyoming. But the past year has not been normal. Our brother died last May after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Our parents have needed increasing care. So my sisters stepped up and helped. They have carried all my share of care, for which I’m grateful. Sometimes I joke with them and ask if they’re still married. Fortunately, they both are blessed with flexible and faithful husbands.

Much of last year was a stalemate as dad resisted moving to assisted living and the required stairs in their split-level house became more problematic. I have often joked with mom, saying “What were you thinking?” about the split-level house they designed and built in 1964. She always laughed and said it was just right for the family. It was. It’s still home to me.

They were still searching out other solutions in February when mom became ill and had to be hospitalized. Since then she has never been able to regain her strength. The last time I talked with her at home was Easter Sunday. That week she was hospitalized for what may be the last time. This week as my older sister was driving from the hospital to the hospice house for the transfer, I naively asked if mom was with her. I deserved the sarcastic answer she delivered on the phone, saying, “Right! Mom’s bed is in the back of my car.”

It turns out mom may bypass both assisted living and the nursing home. It’s unlikely she’ll go home to dad. She may be graduated to heaven from the bed in which she now lies with discomfort. She is not at death’s door, but her sojourn’s end is likely not far away on the horizon.

When I asked mom this week if she is afraid, she immediately said, “No.” Then she hesitated and added, “But I’m not sure of the process.” That, of course, is the great mystery of life. We walk the valley of the shadow of death only once. Nobody returns to explain what lies on the other side of death.

Except for one. Jesus came back from the grave and has told us what lies beyond. He’s been there and can describe it to us. Death is not oblivion. It leads to a place Jesus has prepared for us. Because he lives, we too shall live. Mom and I talked about that on Easter Sunday.

I have told people hundreds of times that the other side is far better than this side. I still believe that. I said it to mom again this week. Heaven is not just a “where;” it’s also a “who.” Jesus referred to his death as “leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28). Heaven is about a relationship with a God who is intimately knowable.

Mom already knows God. Sometime soon, she’ll get to know him face to face. That’s far better. What a privilege!

Postscript: Shortly after posting this entry, I received word that mom’s death might be sooner than I had anticipated. That’s not a reason to panic. It’s a reminder that our times are in God’s hand, as King David eloquently penned in Psalm 31:15. When we are in God’s hand, all is well. Mom told me on Tuesday she is looking forward to heaven. It was well stated. Heaven is worth anticipating.



For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.” Hebrews 10:37

Many people have declared that the Lord’s timing is always perfect. God is never late. Nor is he early.

It’s a challenge to embrace God’s timing when you’re watching your brother die a slow and agonizing death. I don’t know if the process is agonizing for Darrell. He is non-communicative, non-responsive, and heavily medicated. We don’t see signs of conscious suffering, for which we are grateful. But his uneven, shallow gasping for breath is agonizing to watch. Apparently the fluid retained in Darrell’s swollen legs and feet are hydrating his body and prolonging his life.

How does this delay of death fit into God’s timing? Is God ever late to a funeral? Do bodily fluids take life and death out of God’s hands. In reality, is this merely a matter of nature?

The short answer is that providence, sovereignty and omnipotence imply God’s presence and perfect divine timing. Life and death are matters of nature from a human perspective only. God is above nature. He is supernatural.

But what about the natural, human side of prolonged suffering? What we are experiencing with my brother is not even an exceptional case. Prolonged suffering abounds throughout this fallen world. Much of it is far greater than we are enduring here in South Carolina.

What is God’s timing about such things? Hebrews 10:37 indicates that God’s timing is reliable. It is preceded by verses which issue a call for confident living and perseverance in the face of suffering. It is followed by a call for the righteous to live by faith. This is not a new idea. The writer of Hebrews is citing Habakkuk, who wrestled with the same problem around 600 B.c.

Habakkuk saw evil everywhere and pondered God’s apparent absence and indifference. God’s response shocked him. God told him things were going to get even worse before they got better. Judah would be carried into captivity by the Babylonians.

That’s like bodily fluid delaying the inevitable. Habakkuk explained how the suffering of God’s people would be prolonged. But “revelation” would come (Habakkuk 2:3). God would win in the end.

The writer to the Hebrews took that concept of approaching revelation and applied it personally. The Lord would come to remedy evil and suffering. God himself is the ultimate revelation.

What does all that mean to the reader of Scripture? It means that although the world appears to be falling apart, God is still in control. His timing is still perfect. It means we are to live by faith, not by what we painfully observe in slow motion on a hospice bed.

Based only on our sight, the Lord appears to be delayed, subject to bodily fluid in a dying man’s body. God appears to be absent or even indifferent. Life and death seem arbitrary and mechanical.

Habakkuk says, “Not so. God’s timing is impeccable.” The writer of Hebrews agrees. What appears to be apathetic tarrying to us is divine timing to God. We walk by faith, not by sight. Therefore we will not shrink back in the face of an agonizing loss. Not only will God be on time, he’s already present with  mercy and grace. Life and death are still in God’s tender hands, Darrell’s bodily fluids not withstanding.

Three weeks ago a friend in Minnesota was retelling a story about a horrific motorcycle accident he had barely survived 45 years ago. I asked, “Where was God in all this?”

He answered, “God was late, but he eventually showed up.”

No, not really. God was there all the time. And God is present with Darrell here. To borrow a line from another pastor: In the meantime, God is not absent, apathetic or angry. (cf.



Welcome, Enemy


For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26

Death is a vile enemy. It defies faith. It denies hope. It devastates love.

Death is a vicious enemy. Jesus prayed to his Father, “If you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Then the Savior submitted to the most ignoble death possible. He willingly suffered the humiliating condemnation of a Roman cross.

Death is a defeated enemy. The Resurrection changed everything. Jesus turned death on its head. He came back from the grave, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Death’s final destruction is yet future. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). In the meantime, humanity remains subject to the despicable throes of death. At present, death is still a powerful, hated enemy.

My brother Darrell is dying of cancer. It’s not a pleasant sight. He has not received food or water for six days. Yet he lingers. As far as we can tell, he is not aware of what is going on around him. His breathing is shallower today. Yet, incredibly, his vital signs are actually improving. His blood pressure improved today. His heart rate was closer to normal. The hospice care has been wonderful. He may yet linger for days. Or his departure from this broken world could come tonight.

God has his purpose in the timing of Darrell’s life and death. Yet I don’t recognize it in the lingering, unless it serves as an open door of invitation for those who remain.

God remains sovereign. Death remains an enemy, though a welcome enemy. When the angel of death finally arrives, it will sting. There will be genuine loss. We will feel pain. But death will accomplish only what God has decreed. Therefore I say to the hovering immanence of destruction, “Welcome, Enemy.”