Posts Tagged ‘death’

When we’re debating truth claims of the Christian worldview, some concepts can be valiantly defended by the atheist side in a clinical way – in a way that doesn’t have to be intimately related to, at that point. Typically, the nihilistic implications are shied away from … but it comes closer to reality with a bang sometimes –

When you’re the atheist needing to provide comfort to close friend grieving over a family member – then, like in this case, you may realize that “the life of an atheist is a tad bleak”. You can’t say “she’s in a better place” of “you’re in my prayers”. As it turns out, you’re left with nothing meaningful to say…

Note that the trite treatment of prayer in the article is an inditement of the institutionalized, empty version of what much of the western world calls christianity (removed from Christ). The christianity that is characterized by church attendance vs church embodiment i.e. “the true body of Christ in the earth” won’t “fake it”. They won’t leave the world thinking that intersession is empty commitment, because it won’t be. The world isn’t foolish as far as knowing a fake. Followers of Jesus / Yeshua, should step up & be who they say they are or admit to being no more than “fair weather christian counterfeits”.

Audio below outlines this all in brief.

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AlbertMohler.com – The Briefing 09-25-13. Listen to full audio here.

Grieving as an atheist: a surprising dilemma

I can’t remember the exact moment I became an atheist. There was no epiphany moment. I simply moved away from religion gradually until the binds fell apart completely (those binds being agnosticism, which got tossed once I realized I was simply prolonging the inevitable). But since I became an atheist, I wouldn’t say it made any drastic changes in my life – until my best friend called me one day to tell me her mother passed away.

Although we live in different parts of the country (me in New York, she in Oklahoma), we still call each other weekly. But on that particular day the usual familiarity of speaking over the phone was eclipsed by the suddenness of tragedy. I couldn’t give a sympathetic hug or offer a shoulder to cry on. All I could offer were my condolences … which were what exactly?

“I’m sorry for your loss” felt too impersonal. That’s what you say to acquaintances, not best friends. “I’m here for you”, I told her, which still didn’t feel like enough.

I felt like I should have been saying the usual things: “God is with her now”, “She’s now in heaven” or “You’re in my prayers”. These phrases sound better because these are the phrases we’re used to saying. “She’s in a better place” provides a sense of hope and optimism. “You’re in my prayers” shows caring and understanding. But that day, as I stood there on the phone struggling to think of the right things to say, I realized I couldn’t say those phrases anymore. I couldn’t tell her I was praying for her because I wasn’t. I couldn’t tell her I thought her mother was in “a better place” because to me that place was a hollow grave.

I started to realize that the life of an atheist was a tad bleak. The more I spoke, the darker the conversation became. As I drawled on about how “there was nothing you could have done” and “it is what it is”, I started to feel like a black hole. When did atheism transform me into Daria?

But even if I were still a Christian and had the privilege to pepper my condolences with hopeful phrases of heaven and angels, those phrases might sound better, and sure they provide immediate reassurance (which is what they’re designed to do), but the phrases themselves are empty. When people say they’re praying for you, how often are they really? But saying “I’m praying for you” sounds nice, regardless if there’s any truth to it or not. We’re conditioned to say these phrases whenever we’re confronted with a tragedy, but we put little thought or effort into why we say them.

Last year Kim Kardashian was criticized for tweeting that she was “praying for everyone in Israel” in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict. The critics lashed out, accusing the Kardashian of supporting Israel in the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Kim later added a new tweet saying that she was “praying for everyone in Palestine and across the world!” But amidst the mud-slinging, no one thought to realize how empty a phrase “I’m praying for ______” is, how little weight it has in being anything of significance. It’s merely a crutch, a thing we say to show that a) we’re aware of a tragedy, and b) we’re sorry for whoever died in said tragedy. The amount of people who actually make it to step 2 (physically praying) is a mystery.

To some readers, all of this might sound irrelevant. Religiously-charged phrases serve a single purpose: to provide comfort, reassurance. They help people make sense of tragedies they don’t understand. They make people feel good. They provide a sense of hope when people feel like they have none. So what hope do I have as an atheist? Am I doomed to go through life telling friends and family that, no, your grandma is dead for good. There has to be a better way.

During my second phone call to my best friend, I decided I would let her do the majority of the talking. After all, this wasn’t about me, it was about my friend, and I realized the best thing I could do for her was to simply be there for her and be a supportive listener. I told her she could call me any time she wanted, even if it was 4am, even if she just wanted to bawl in my ear. Even though I wasn’t armed with an arsenal of hopeful and optimistic phrases to make her feel better with, I realized that simply being a caring and understanding friend was more important. And isn’t that what really matters? – The Guardian

Did Jesus preach to the dead? How would that work?

Soul sleep? …or “absent from the body present with the Lord” … and how important is that?

Check out Line of Fire Radio. Listen to full audio here.

When heart-wrenching tragedy (like this & this) strikes, what do you tell people that ask “why would God allow this to happen?”

For people less intimately involved in a tragic event, see also the intellectual problem of evil, in this post. Obviously intellectual reasoning has nothing to offer a heart that is overwhelmed with deep & unbearable grief.

The following true story illustrates, the deliverance & real power over adversity and even joy that people can & do find, through Jesus. Make sure you listen to the audio above also (or download here).

I was a college student when I met Mabel. It was Mothers Day, and I was taking some flowers to the county convalescent home to brighten the day for some lonely mothers and grandmothers.

This state-run convalescent hospital is not a pleasant place. It is large, understaffed, and overfilled with senile and helpless people who are waiting to die. On the brightest of days it seems dark inside, and it smells of sickness and stale urine. I went there once or twice a week for four years, but I never wanted to go there, and I always left with a sense of relief. It is not the kind of place one gets used to.

On this particular day I was walking in a hallway that I had not visited before, looking in vain for a few people who appeared sufficiently alert to receive a flower and a few words of encouragement. This hallway seemed to contain some of the worst cases, strapped onto carts or into wheelchairs and looking completely helpless.

As I neared the end of the hallway, I saw an old woman strapped up in a wheelchair. Her face was a horror. The empty stare and white pupils of her eyes told me that she was blind. The large hearing aid over one ear told me that she was almost deaf. One side of her face was being eaten by cancer. There was a discolored and running sore covering part of one cheek, and it had pushed her nose to one side, dropped one eye, and distorted her jaw so that what should have been the corner of her mouth was the bottom of her mouth. As a consequence, she drooled constantly. I was told later that when new aids arrived, the supervisors would send them to feed this woman, thinking that if they could stand this sight they could stand anything in the building. I also learned later that this woman was eighty-nine years old and that she had been here, bed-ridden, blind, nearly deaf, and alone, for twenty-five years. This was Mabel.

I don’t know why I spoke to her – she looked less likely to respond than most of the people I saw in that hallway. But I put a flower in her hand and said, “Here is a flower for you. Happy Mother’s Day.” She held the perfect flower up to her distorted face and tried to smell it. Then she spoke. And much to my surprise, her words, although somewhat garbled because of her deformity, were obviously the product of a clear mind. She said, “Thank you. It’s lovely. But can I give it to someone else? I can’t see it, you know, I’m blind.”

I said, “Of course,” and I pushed her in the chair back down the hallway to a place where I thought I could find some alert patients. I found one, and I stopped the chair. Before I could speak, Mabel held out the flower and said, “Here. This is from Jesus.”

That was when it began to dawn on me that this was not an ordinary human being. We distributed the rest of my little supply of flowers in the same manner, and I wheeled her back to her room. There I began to learn more. She had grown up on a small farm that she managed with only her mother until her mother died, and then she managed the farm alone. Her social life was limited to the country church near her home, where she had played the piano from the time she was a girl. Finally blindness and sickness and poverty sent her to the county convalescent hospital. For twenty-five years she got weaker and weaker, with constant headaches, backaches, and stomach aches. Then the cancer came. There was little medical care for people like Mabel, people with no money merely waiting to die. For company she had three roommates, human vegetables who screamed occasionally but never spoke intelligibly. They often soiled their bedclothes; and because the hospital was understaffed, especially on Sundays when I usually visited, the stench was overpowering.

Mabel and I became friends, and I went to see her once or twice a week for the next three years. Her first words to me were usually an offer of hard candy from a tissue box she kept near her bed. Some days I would read to her from her beloved Bible, and often when I would pause she would continue reciting the passage from memory, word for word. On other days I would take a book of hymns and sing with her, and she would know all the words of the old songs. For Mabel, these were not merely exercises in memory. She would often stop in mid-hymn and make a brief comment about lyrics she considered particularly relevant to her own situation. I never heard her speak of loneliness or pain except in the stress she placed on certain lines in certain hymns. Once, for example, while singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” following the line, “Is there trouble anywhere?” she murmured softly, “Oh, yes, there is.”

It was not many weeks before I turned from a sense that I was being helpful to a sense of wonder, and I would go to her with a pen and paper to write down things she would say. I have a few of those notes now (I wish I had had the foresight to collect a book full of them), and what follows is the story behind one scrap of paper.

During a hectic week of final exams I was frustrated because my mind seemed to be pulled in ten directions at once by all of the things I had to think about. The question occurred to me, “What does Mabel have to think about – hour after hour, day after day, week after week, not even able to know if it is day or night?” So I went to her and asked, “Mabel, what do you think about when you lie here?”

And she said, “I think about my Jesus.”

I sat there and thought for a moment about the difficulty, for me, of thinking about Jesus for even five minutes, and I asked, “What do you think about Jesus?” She replied slowly and deliberately as I wrote; so slowly that I was able to write it all down. This is what she said:

“I think about how good he’s been to me. He’s been awfully good to me in my life, you know. . .

I’m one of those kind who’s mostly satisfied. . . Lots of folks wouldn’t care much for what I think. Lots of folks would think I’m kind of old-fashioned. But I don’t care. I’d rather have Jesus. He’s all the world to me.”

And then Mabel began to sing an old hymn:

Jesus is all the world to me,

My life, my joy, my all.

He is my strength from day to day,

Without him I would fall.

When I am sad, to him I go,

No other one can cheer me so.

When I am sad, he makes me glad.

He’s my friend.

This is not fiction. Incredible as it may seem, a human being really lived like this. I know. I knew her. I watched her for three years. How could she do it? Seconds ticked and minutes crawled, and so did days and weeks and months and years of pain without human company and without an explanation of why it was all happening – and she lay there and sang hymns. How could she do it?

The answer, I think, is that Mabel had something that you and I don’t have much of. She had power. Lying there in that bed, unable to move, unable to see, unable to hear, unable to talk to anyone, she had incredible power.

For the emotional problem of evil – pain, death & suffering, see this post.

The best apologetic (defense) on this topic that I have yet come across by William Lane Craig (from Reasonable Faith). It is often not clear that the problem of evil (why a good & all-powerful God would allow evil to exist) contains some implicit assumptions. This discussion brings those assumptions into the open & illustrates the flaws in them. It also shows why, with the Christian world-view the existence of evil in the world is expected (to some degree).

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

You can also download the MP3s here: Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.