The parents of Jahi McMath found it impossible to give up and let go. Something had gone terribly wrong after their daughter underwent a routine tonsillectomy last December. While 13-year-old Jahi was in recovery, she began bleeding heavily from her mouth and nose and went into cardiac arrest. Three days later, she was declared brain dead.
The finality of that declaration was just too much for her family to bear, and they began a legal battle with the hospital, requesting that Jahi be kept on life support. Even when two separate doctors not affiliated with the hospital where Jahi’s surgery took place examined her and confirmed that she was brain dead, her parents refused to allow the hospital to remove their daughter from life support.
I think all of us can sympathize with these parents. Most of us have probably longed to hold on to someone we knew was dying—whether it was from old age, an illness, or an accident. I know people who have battled a disease for years, living in and out of treatment centers to give themselves a few more months—if not weeks—on this earth. And I know elderly people who have fought the inevitable with all their might because they weren’t ready to die.
This thought came to me the other day: we try so hard to hold on to this life, as if it were the end, as if life on this earth is all we have, and once it’s over, it’s really over. But that’s not what the Bible teaches! In fact, it has a lot to say about death and the hope of a resurrection.
Healing will come
I’ll always remember what my friend, Alf, taught me about death. The way he lived his life after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer proved he knew that death is not the end.
I found out on Christmas Eve that Alf had been ill and was in the hospital. The doctors were not recommending surgery or treatment, but only something to help relieve his pain.
How would you feel with a diagnosis like that? Panicked? Desperate? Depressed?
When I walked into Alf ’s hospital room that night, he welcomed me with a smile and open arms. There was a look of peace on his face.
How can this be? I asked myself. How can he smile when he knows that he has only a few short weeks to live? When he knows that he’s leaving his wife and children behind?
What he said to me in our conversation answered my questions: “I know that I will be healed, Nancy. What I don’t know is whether it will happen on this side of the curtain or on the other side.”
To Alf, his healing was simply a matter of when. It would happen either as an answer to prayer now or as the fulfillment of God’s promise at the resurrection.
No fear of death
It isn’t a pleasant thought, but someday you and I will face death. These bodies of ours grow old, diseases come, and accidents happen. None of us wants to die. But when we understand what death is and believe that there will be a resurrection, death loses its terror. That’s why Alf could be so calm in the process of dying.
What is death? Let’s go to the most trusted resource in the universe: God’s Word. According to the Bible, death isn’t the creepy unknown that some movies and books have made it out to be. The Bible speaks about death as a sleep, and you can’t get more peaceful than that! When someone dies after a painful illness or injury or after enduring an aching, aging body for years, they finally get to peacefully rest until the resurrection at Jesus’ second coming.
When Jesus heard that His friend Lazarus had died, He said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (John 11:11). By the time Jesus arrived at Lazarus’s tomb, he had been dead for four days. The conversation that took place outside his tomb between his sister Martha and Jesus was beautiful and full of hope:
“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
“Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
“ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world’ ” (verses 23–27).
Then Jesus gave a glimpse of not only His power but also our future hope. He shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And Martha’s dead brother came back to life (verses 43, 44)!
The greater miracle
I have come to view the resurrection as a greater miracle than healing from cancer, and here’s why. When my brother, Dan, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he had faith that God could heal him. He sent me an e-mail one day, telling me that he was sure God was going to come through for him. But after a five-month battle, my brother died. We were all greatly disappointed, to say the least.
But a few weeks after he died, I remembered Dan’s e-mail, and that’s when a new thought came to me. Wait a minute! I said to myself. Dan’s prayer will be answered! He will be healed! On resurrection day at Jesus’ second coming, he will come out of his grave totally cancer free!
It would have been quite a miracle if God had cured Dan of cancer in this life. But it will be an even greater miracle when God breathes the breath of life into my brother and raises him from his grave, cancer free! And not just to live for a few more years on this earth, but to live eternally! That’s the greater miracle.
One of my favorite texts about the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
Following Dan’s funeral and burial service, while everyone was walking toward their cars, I stayed behind, looking at the earth that covered my brother’s coffin. I didn’t feel that I should just walk away. It seemed as though I should say something. And then it came to me. I recited the incredible promise of 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
This is our promise. This is our hope.
Coping with hope
There’s nothing pleasant about death. It’s ugly and heart-wrenching. And even if we know God, the grief can seem unbearable at times. But if we know that death is a sleep, and if we have the hope of the resurrection, our grief won’t be debilitating.
Here’s how the apostle Paul described it: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (verses 13, 14).
Jesus died and rose again so that you and those you love won’t face an eternal death. Instead, He offers us eternal life. He offers us the greater miracle.