The question in the above title admittedly sounds a bit odd. How do you answer such a query? As Christians we are more comfortable with the question of why death should come. "The wages of sin is death." But when is an entirely different issue.
Last night, about midnight, I was called out again. Another dear member was in critical condition in the ICU, and the local nun told the family this might be a good time to call the pastor. When I arrived she was on oxygen, alert, but with clearly shaky vitals. Her BP was low. Her heart rate was elevated. I went to the bedside and assured her of God's grace and presence. Psalm 121 directed our attention to the true source of help, the God who never sleeps, who watches our coming in and our going out. We prayed.
One doctor consulted with another, and called yet a third at the nearby regional hospital. Her C02 levels were rising. There was fluid on the lungs, but the culprit was cancer. They talked with the family of the nature of these cancers, technical words I am still trying to sort out. They had choices. There were no guarantees. They could keep her comfortable and wait. Or they could put her on the ventilator and transport to the region hospital to have the fluid drained, to have more tests. It was their choice.
I could sense the weight on her husband's soul. He had not slept much the last day or two. His wife was only supposed to be in for an overnight stay. How did this happen? It was all so quick. Her husband agreed with the ventilator. The doctors agreed this was appropriate, that they still needed time to find more answers. As we walked to the elevator, the family bounced between hope that anything is possible, and the reality that says, 'We should be prepared. This doesn't look good.'
But the other question is still there. Will she ever get off the ventilator? I watched when my mother spent an entire week on one. The longer they are on it, the less likely it seems that they really make a full recovery.
Ventilators are a wonderful piece of medical technology. Yet, as with all this technology we now have, we have been presented with dilemmas unheard of with previous generations. The question for our forefathers did not involve this agonizing question of when. They didn't have the controls we have. It was a simpler time.
As a diabetic I have long realized that I would most likely have never made it to my 40th birthday without the drugs and technology we have today. Every day for me is a modern miracle. I am grateful to be born in this era. Many of us might never have lived into adulthood without the miracles our merciful God has allowed us to discover and develop in just the past century.
Yet such blessings are often mixed blessings. In Bible class the other night we talked about how we spend our whole life preparing for our death. As Christians we know it must come, and in faith we face it with trust, with hope, even with joy, knowing the life we have in Christ. But all this technology stretches the time line out and makes the end all the more fuzzy. It gives us questions that make us feel as if we are trespassing on God's turf. Why should we decide when death must come? How should we know what only God can know in his infinite knowledge?
But as Christians we approach even these dilemmas in the simple faith that God is ultimately in control. "I lift up mine eyes unto the hills. From whence cometh my help? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and hearth...." (Ps. 121) In the end the God of all creation makes the final decisions. As I have told my people more than once, he possesses veto power over anything we do.
When should death come? I don't have an answer. But I do know that it will come when God so ordains. May the Lord strengthen us to make intelligent and responsible decisions with the information we are given, but, in the end, be willing to allow death to come. As people of the resurrection we don't have to fight death. Christ has done that and won.