Saturday, October 11, 2008

Facing Death without Christ

A recent article from the Religious News Service made me wonder: What is it like to die without the direct comfort of the resurrected and living Christ.? Pastor Forest Church of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York is dying of terminal cancer. But he is dying, it would appear, without the comfort of eternal life in Christ in which Christians find great comfort at times of death. The article notes:

"Like other Unitarian-Universalists, Church rejects many aspects of Christian doctrine. He neither blames God for his illness nor asks God for a cure.

"I don't pray for miracles," he said. "I don't pray to cure my incurable case. I rejoice and consecrate each day that I'm given as a gift.

As to the afterlife, Church said he has "no idea what happens after we die. I go with Henry David Thoreau who, when he was asked about the afterlife, said, `Madam, I prefer to take it one life at a time.'"

At the same time, Church says he has come to believe that without God there is nothing.

"God is what sustains me. I am connected with that grace and power. God is that which greater than all and present in each," he said.

"For me, Christianity is a faith about love, love to God and love to neighbor that is right at the heart of my very being," he said. "I am a Christian Universalist. I believe that the same light shines through every religious window. And it's interpreted. The windows are different. It's interpreted in different ways. It refracts in different ways."

Church calls "Love and Death" a coda to his theology, to his "lifelong belief that love and death interwoven were the heartstrings of religion."

"The greatest of all truths is that love never dies," he said. "That every act of love that we perform in this life is carried on and passed on into another life so that centuries from now the love carries. And that is the work of religion."

So that's it. The sum total is simply love. Love endures. But can you define love without Christ (1 John 4:10)? Do our singular acts of human love really amount to anything truly significant without Christ?

I agree that reconciliation before death is important. We need to tie up loose ends. So is leaving a legacy of love and concern, as opposed to bitterness, hate and resentment. Knowing we are dying allows us the opportunity to do that which we have too long put off and neglected in this life. Yet dying without a firm hope in what is to come is for me unthinkable - and empty. I suppose it has been a part of my life and faith for so long that to consider its absence is inconceivable. More so, is the thought of viewing God apart from Christ. It simply goes against the very witness of scripture itself (John 14:7-9). Mr. Church is therefore an enigma for me. There is no real comfort here. How sad....

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