I just heard on the news this morning that in a landmark ruling a judge in England granted the dying wish of a 14 year old girl with cancer to have her body cryogenically frozen until the day when medical knowledge is sufficiently advanced to revive and cure her. In a letter to the judge she wrote,
‘I am only 14 years old and I don't want to die but I know I am going to die. I think being cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up - even in hundreds of years' time. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance.’
Isn’t it tragic that the very thing this girl was longing for was exactly what is being held out in the gospel? Isn’t it tragic that she put her trust in a quasi-scientific fairy tale for her hope of resuscitation life rather than the resurrection life the Lord Jesus Christ achieved when he rose from the dead on the third day? Isn’t it just so unspeakably sad that someone would put their hope in such far-fetched nonsense instead of the living hope we have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? But then, as G.K. Chesterton famously put it, ‘When a man ceases to believe in God he doesn’t believe in nothing – he believes in anything.’
I couldn’t help wondering if anyone had ever spoken to this girl about this living hope. Did she not have any Christian friend or teacher or nurse who could have pointed her to the solid hope of the gospel? Did she know that in Christ that longing in all of us for eternal life is answered? Did she know that death for the believer is the end of all our struggles and the beginning of a never-ending bliss of perfect fellowship with the God who made us and who loves us?
How different the believer’s attitude to death should be. I couldn’t help thinking of some of the great stories of how Christians have faced death with courage and calmness, knowing that they were about to enter into the presence of God, into a world of perfect peace and joy. This one in particular came to mind, from Don Cormack’s account of the Khmer Rouge persecution of the Cambodian church. A Christian family have been rounded up by the Khmer Rouge and were due to be executed the following day…
The family spent a sleepless night comforting one another and praying for each other as they lay bound together in the dewy grass beneath a stand of friendly trees. Next morning the teenage soldiers returned and led them from their Gethsemane to their place of execution, to the nearby _viel somlap, _‘the killing fields’…
The family were ordered to dig a large grave for themselves. Then, consenting to Haim’s [the father] request for a moment to prepare themselves for death, father, mother, and children, hands linked, knelt together around the gaping pit. With loud cries to God, Haim began exhorting both the Khmer Rouge and all those looking on from afar to repent and believe the gospel.
Then in panic, one of Haim’s youngest sons leapt to his feet, bolted into the surrounding bush and disappeared. Haim jumped up and with amazing coolness and authority prevailed upon the Khmer Rouge not to pursue the lad, but allow him to call the boy back. The knots of onlookers, peering around trees, the Khmer Rouge, and the stunned family still kneeling at the graveside, looked on in awe as Haim began calling his son, pleading with him to return and die together with his family.
And here’s the part I found such a contrast to that of the sad case on the news today…
‘What comparison, my son’, he called out, ‘stealing a few more days of life in the wilderness, a fugitive, wretched and alone, to joining your family here momentarily around this grave but soon around the throne of God, free forever in Paradise?’ After a few tense minutes the bushes parted, and the lad, weeping, walked slowly back to his place with the kneeling family. ‘Now we are ready to go,’ Haim told the Khmer Rouge.
Few of those watching doubted that as each of these Christians’ bodies toppled silently into the earthen pit which the victims themselves had prepared, their souls soared heavenward to a place prepared by their Lord.
Why pin your hopes of life on the remote possibility of resuscitation in a world changed out of all recognition hundreds of years from now, when all the people and things you know and love are gone, to stumble on for a few more years before eventually succumbing to death in the end, when the life of the age to come awaits those who trust in the Lord of life? As Haim put it ‘What comparison… stealing a few more days of life in the wilderness… wretched and alone, to joining your family… around the throne of God, free forever in Paradise?’
What comparison indeed? ‘Our people die well’ said John Wesley. We should, if we truly believe all we say we believe. And surely we should sit much more lightly to this present world than so many of us do if we believe all we say we believe.