A friend of mine learned today that the doctors had done all they can. His cancer is terminal. In empathy my wife and I reached out, to try to help and we prayed too. My prayer was straight forward: “God, please be very close to him and let him know you are and always will be with him.”
We all know we will die some day but that date is over the horizon. On this side of the horizon, life stretches out in front of us. Death and what lies beyond can’t be seen.
Then one day, like my friend on a Tuesday in October, we abruptly see that death is on this side of our horizon, close to us. The road we are on ends at a chasm. There is no bridge across the chasm, nor any road visible on the other side. There are no travel guides and no one, neither friends or doctors or even religious gurus can tell us how to make this trip. It’s clear that we are an amateur at doing death and also clear that we must learn to do death.
Are we alone? No our friends and family are nearby. But they cannot go with us so, in a way, when we step into the chasm we are alone — unless we believe God is with us.
Our mental model about God comes into focus as we approach the chasm of death. If we imagine that God is distant, it may be hard for us to imagine that such a God is close to us now. If we imagine that God is only some universal energy or the creative force behind the Big Bang, it’s hard to imagine such a God as caring about ‘little us.’ And if a Christian tells us that God loves us and is close to us as we step into the chasm of death, we may like to believe that but we have no evidence in our own life that that such a hope is well founded.
That is why I pray for God to be close to someone like my friend. God knows how to care for him, whatever his mental model about God is. I learned this lesson a long time ago when my father, who was not a overtly religious man, was diagnosed with a terminal condition. God comforted me and my family saying, in effect, “Don’t worry, I have your father in my hands and won’t lose him.” That same God is already reaching out now to my friend to help him as he learns to “do death” and cross the chasm toward eternal life. Of that, I am completely confident.