Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What last words do you want to hear?

I saw a post somewhere about how this woman's in-law recently passed away. She thanked everyone for the prayers (for she had posted three days earlier, asking for prayers for her atheist in-law, so that he might 'know' Jesus before it was too late) and said that although they didn't know where the in-law choose to depart, the in-law was surrounded by loved ones, including her brother who "ministered to the [in-law] in the [in-law's] final hours."

Am I the only one bothered by this attitude? Because it comes across as trying to ram the in-law into heaven before it's too late. Now, I don't know the entire situation, and I'm sure they talked about more than just accepting Jesus before it was too late. But these were the in-law's last days, and the in-law couldn't speak. Why wasn't the family focused on being in the now, and remembering all the good times, and just saying how much they appreciated the in-law?

It just seems to discount the reality of death, and doesn't savor the now. It's all about make sure the person goes to Paradise after the death.

Let's reverse this: how would you feel if you had strong beliefs in one direction, and the majority of your last few days were spent listening to someone telling you why this belief was wrong? And you were about to die, and just wanted to appreciate what you had, and love your family, and be surrounded by them. You really want that to be the family member's parting memory of you?

Please, no comments about how this was for the greater good, or the woman was doing the best thing, or nothing mattered except salvation.

33 comments:

zilch said...

When my beloved, devout Baptist, grandmother died many years ago, it would never have crossed my mind to tell her that I personally didn't believe she was going to Heaven. My other grandmother, who was demented at the end and thought I was her father or her husband, but still radiated love and goodwill, I comforted as well as I could and accepted the love. Who would have done otherwise?

jim said...

Whoops... try again...

I was recently challenged by a board member of a church that I used to attend and do pulpit supply for. When I came out on my "universalistic" view it was the beginning of the end of our fellowship with this church. This person's challenge was "what would you say to someone who doesn't know Jesus and is dying in bed?" It was clear that she was implying that if I'm wrong the person is likely going to hell forever. I told her that I would want to assure the person of the "Good News" that God loves her/him and that there is nothing to fear. Most people have the erroneous doctrine of eternal damnation somewhere in their conscience which may be causing a degree of fear. I wouldn't go so far as to say that everyone needs this kind of assurance when facing death, but I would guess that most do. You are absolutely right implying that this is an extremely important and precious time for the person and family. It's about being sensitive to that and helping them through it. Because I have been in ministry for years people expect and often want spiritual counsel from me it seems. If so, what a joy to be able to tell them there is nothing to fear.

Mystical Seeker said...

I agree with you. This is an example of how arrogant and insensitive some religious attitudes can be.

You'd think that people who would do such a thing would ask themselves what kind of God it is that would consign someone to hell unless they made a theological decision in the minutes before they died. But somehow they can't bring themselves to ask themselves that simple, basic, obvious question.

StaCeY said...

I am in total agreement with you.

If people don't even know how to live in love in the now ...
and savor the life shared...
in those last moments on earth...
with a dying family member...

perhaps they should get busy focusing on THEIR OWN relationship with God...
instead.

SocietyVs said...

But what about salvation...im kidding....or am I?

I see the term salvation as something that is in the spirit of someone's 'well being' (looking out for that for them). Maybe salvation in this scenario is holding the dude's hand, reminiscing about 'good times', and reading a book to them - shedding tears but to show your love. Salvation (as a term) is what is needed in this situation - but that means 'doing what's best for the person'. A hug, a kiss, a handshake, listening, etc...we all like this - even in death.

No amount of theological knowledge about God will help at one's dying hour - who's to know the heart of an individual anyways and what they truly thought about humanity? Love them, that's all we can do.

DagoodS said...

Unfortunately, when I die, it will be traumatic and tragic for my family. They all believe in the fire/brimstone/eternal hell. And I am certainly damned, to them, to going there. Everyone else (currently) is saved. Oh, sure we have our divorcees and sinners and probably some really bad people. But they walk the correct walk (on Sunday at least) and say the right things (on Sunday at least) so no one has to worry about them going to hell…

But me? I don’t give them any wiggle room. I am blatantly saying the wrong thing, regardless of how I live.

If I was faced with this situation (and I can hardly believe I am saying this) I might tell them I prayed the sinners pray. Look, I am dying anyway, right? After that, there is nothing for me to worry about. They are the ones that have to live a few more years. I have always lived by the premise that I should make life better for others—what is the harm in relieving some of their anguish by giving them a bit of an out to think I was “saved at the last moment”?

The trick would be not to do it too soon and have to listen about it for days and days on end. And too late…well…the plan wouldn’t work.

Yes, it is disingenuous, I’ll give you that. So is saying “Nice hat” sometimes. Is it that harmful to give them a hope on a lie? It is not like I am teaching them anything new.

Heather said...

Zilch,

** I comforted as well as I could and accepted the love. Who would have done otherwise? ** Exactly. You focused on the person, and who the person was, and most importantly, respected that person enough to do what they would want.

Jim,

** I told her that I would want to assure the person of the "Good News" that God loves her/him and that there is nothing to fear. ** This message, I wouldn't have a problem with. Because it still puts value on the person and his/her life. This is something I would say to a dying person, regardless of religion (I may restrain myself with an atheist, out of respect).

Mystical,

**You'd think that people who would do such a thing would ask themselves what kind of God it is that would consign someone to hell unless they made a theological decision in the minutes before they died. ** I would also think that people would ask themselves what it says about their concept of salvation, too. As long as you hold to the correct beliefs, nothing else about this life matters. It just ... completely trashes everything else in someone's life. It's saying to the dying person, "Who you are, how you've lived and what you've done really isn't that important." Life here should be more than a stepping stone.

Stacey,

Welcome. :)

**perhaps they should get busy focusing on THEIR OWN relationship with God..** It's truly amazing how people don't seem to do this, but worry about everyone else's relationship, instead. The fact is, we really don't know someone's relationship with God. The person could act the 'right' way, or speak the right beliefs, but we don't know what's in the person's heart. Only God does.

Heather said...

Society,

**I see the term salvation as something that is in the spirit of someone's 'well being' (looking out for that for them). ** I'm in total agreement with you. The root word of salvation was 'salve,' which corresponding with healing. In this case, to 'salve' the situation would be to do as you suggested. Not pound the terror of God into them.

Heather said...

DagoodS,

**If I was faced with this situation (and I can hardly believe I am saying this) I might tell them I prayed the sinners pray.**

I can understand where you're coming from, and wouldn't blame you for doing this. I can also see everyone else believing you, because the fear of death did what nothing else could -- put you on the 'right track' with God.

The poster of what I'm originally ranting against mentioned something about how one of the family members was terrified for the dead 'in-law,' because he might be in hell.

I always want to ask, "Then what does this say about your God?" After all, if this person is in hell, how will you enjoy being in heaven? Why would you want to be in heaven if you knew that someone else was suffering?

There's the argument that a person 'choose' to go to hell, but at the same time, if my family member decides to kill him/herself, or glue his/her hand to a hot burner, I don't care what the person choose -- that person's insane and not thinking clearly. *No* one in his/her right mind chooses to suffer or reject love.

jennypo said...

I really know where DagoodS is coming from, and I know that what he says is motivated by love for his family, and a pragmatic view of the reality that they are going to be sticking around to suffer after he dies. DagoodS, I hope you understand that I don't say this to dis you or to poke holes in your thinking, because in your position, I hope that I would be unselfish enough to do the same, BUT (you knew it was coming!) I must maintain, against my feelings, that the ugly, bitter truth is always (always, always) better than any lie (even one that gives comfort!) Ultimately, the truth sets free, while a lie destroys. I say this with the belief that there is a real hell, and that there are people near and dear to me who may go there, and from whom I may someday long to hear a word of comfort. Whatever it costs, let us have truth!
There are a million implications here, but I'll add only this disclaimer: I don't mean to say that we have the right to broadcast everything we believe to be true. Sometimes silence is appropriate. But I am fully convinced that a lie will ultimately eat up what we use it to save, and Christianity is a prime example of that. It is the lies that have been used to defend it that speak the loudest against it now!

zilch said...

Heather- if you were to tell me on my deathbed not to fear because God loves me, I would not mind, because you are obviously motivated by love and not dogma.

That's what it comes down to for me: love, however understood. All belief systems are irrational, because we cannot know everything: Christian, Muslim, atheist... The important thing is to love life.

Heather said...

Jenny,

** I must maintain, against my feelings, that the ugly, bitter truth is always (always, always) better than any lie (even one that gives comfort!) Ultimately, the truth sets free, while a lie destroys.** I actually disagree with you on this one. There are some truths that people never recover from.

It also comes down to the purpose behind telling the truth. THe concept is that the truth sets on free, but what does it do for everyone else? If someone is being eaten up by guilt through a horrible wrong that s/he committed twenty years ago, the truth does indeed set that person free and the person feels much better. S/he has confessed (and you have to admit, the Catholic church is really on to something with the confessions they have).

But what about the person s/he confessed to? What if the confessed truth ruins the lives of a child?

I do think we're in a partial agreement on this, though, because you said that sometimes silence is appropriate. And I agree, because I'm not advocating that people go lie through their teeth if the truth is too hard.

From what I've read of others who had 'un-saved' relatives die, I do think DagoodS would take the best route. A lot have said that living with that terror is horrible.

Zilch,

Thank you. :)

**All belief systems are irrational, because we cannot know everything: Christian, Muslim, atheist...** There are days when I wonder if people simply have a more 'refined' need for a higher power. In the old days, the gods were in nature. Fires and tornadoes were because humans had done something wrong. As our knowledge of science grows, the concept of god/gods adapted. But maybe belief in a god is really just a way to explain the irrational. Sobering thought, because then we'd be much closer to an 'ancient man' concept than anyone would be comfortable with.

DagoodS said...

Actually, jennypo, I agree with you. I hold truth as extremely important. And to lie to my family about becoming “saved” at the last moment is ethically wrong, morally wrong, esoterically wrong, and about every “wrong” you can imagine.

But I also know me.

I live by the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would like have done to them.” And while I may hold truth as extremely important—others do not. Others such as my family. They would prefer comfort over truth.

This has been established over and over, not just in areas of theism, but in other inter-personal relationships. They would rather you tell them “Everything is fine” than drag issues out. Issues are uncomfortable, even if true.

So I would be in a moral quandary of sorts. Do I hold to my belief in truth, or my belief in doing what would make the other person feel better? Again, knowing me, I would punt.

(Course it would REALLY stink if, after doing do, I found out I wasn’t dying and was getting better! Then I would have shot myself in the foot, so to speak, eh?)

Heather said...

DagoodS,

**Course it would REALLY stink if, after doing do, I found out I wasn’t dying and was getting better! Then I would have shot myself in the foot, so to speak, eh?** Maybe it could be in letter format. In case you actually die, have a letter delivered that says you were saved at the last minute? Granted, that would look really planned and could backfire on those lines ...

DagoodS said...

Heather

How does a plan “backfire” on a dead person?

*grin*

Hopefully this issue will never come up. Doesn’t sound like I am very prepared if it does.

Heather said...

DagoodS,

Not backfire on you, given the death. But it might not accomplish what you hoped, since they'd wonder why you wouldn't want to share right before dying.

I don't think most are prepared for this. As you say, hopefully the issue won't come up. :)

Slapdash said...

I am moving away from the evangelical/conservative view of heaven/hell toward, well, I'm not sure what. At least a universal(ist?) view of salvation. But maybe beyond that to agnosticism. Heather, if I could figure out how to add links, could I link to your blog? feel free to check mine out. I think you can get to it from my username.

Dan Marvin said...

Zilch said "The important thing is to love life"

That is not biblical that is for sure. John 12:25

Dagoods said "But they walk the correct walk (on Sunday at least) and say the right things (on Sunday at least) so no one has to worry about them going to hell…" These are called false converts and Jesus talked about them in   MATTHEW 7:21-23

**(Jennypo) I must maintain, against my feelings, that the ugly, bitter truth is always (always, always) better than any lie (even one that gives comfort!) Ultimately, the truth sets free, while a lie destroys.**(heather) I actually disagree with you on this one. There are some truths that people never recover from. I agree with Jennypo, Heather you are wrong to think this.

Heather said "the truth does indeed set that person free and the person feels much better.S/he has confessed (and you have to admit, the Catholic church is really on to something with the confessions they have)." That does nothing to save them and it is not biblical. The New Testament never says to confess to a man and your sins are forgiven. The Bible is clear that you must have repentance (broken and contrite heart) and turn away from sin and trust in Jesus. Then and only then will you be born again and given a new heart and you will be saved. God is the one that can save you not man, repent to Jesus(God) not some dude.

Dagoods "I live by the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would like have done to them.” And while I may hold truth as extremely important—others do not. Others such as my family. They would prefer comfort over truth." Truth is comfort honesty is comfort, lies are of the Devil, in Revelation 21:8 it says all liars will have their part in the lake of fire.

I am 100% sure I am going to heaven as God promised. He gives that same promise to all his people, unfortunately people often think that because God loves you that he will save you and that is not the way it is. If you love sin more then God then you will perish. A just Judge would never let a criminal that breaks the law go free. How much more do you think God is then a judge on earth? He is just, good, holy and righteous and he is not lying when he says he will put people in that lake of fire for transgressing his laws. You must be perfect in heaven and Jesus is your only hope of accomplishing that.

For Him,
Dan

Heather said...

Slapdash,

Please feel free to link to my blog. And welcome. :)

Slapdash said...

Thanks, Heather. :)

jennypo said...

Heather,
I've been thinking about this a lot. I understand your weariness with the Christian "hard-sell". I can sympathize fully with those who are irritated by the scare-tactics and underhandedness of people who seem to take delight in manipulating others by using the human fear of death and what lies beyond it. It seems terribly narrow-minded of a person to be so focused on convincing another of the rightness of their view that they insist on arguing their side, even as a loved one enters the solemn door of death.
And yet, much as I would hate to have this done to me, if someone who loved me believed in their heart of hearts that I was going out of life without a single hope, and that I could escape the inescapable only if I were convinced by them - then, yes, I would want them to plead with me. Even if I never changed my mind. Even if they were totally nuts. I'd want them to love me enough to make a fool of themselves; enough to forget about saying the goodbyes that give the human heart closure.
Being sure of the reality of something changes our whole outlook. Since the reality of God and heaven and hell is something that I am very sure of in my heart's core, i've tried to imagine myself in this situation without the element of truth factored in. What if it were an atheist or a Jehovah's Witness pleading with me? I know it doesn't pack the same punch. The dangers of failing to be convinced of atheism are not such to stir an atheist to make such an idiot of himself unless he truly is an idiot, and there are very few idiots of this calibre; the JWs, who can be as pesky as those who call themselves Christians, are not nearly so ubiquitous and hence seem rather more "harmless" - but I have tried, nonetheless, to see things from the other side. Beyond the irritation, I was surprised to recognize that the pleading is only what I expect from one who both loves me and truly believes that I am soon to slip into an eternity of torments. With such a belief, how could a person who cares about me talk sweetly about the good times and tell me placidly not to be afraid?
I am not disagreeing with what you and others have said. If there is one thing I loathe, it is pushiness and narrow-minded arrogance. Actually, it very much surprised me to feel that there was another side to this.
No one wants to be pushed and nagged and argued with. Not in life, and certainly not in the sacred hour of that crossing-over into death. But to be pleaded with, out of love and sincerity (misguided or not!), though it looks the same to the by-stander, is possibly something quite different...

jennypo said...

I'm not saying that this is always done out of love. It is likely just as often, or even more often, done out of stubborn arrogance and hard-headedness. What I meant is that love COULD produce the same result.

zilch said...

"Zilch said "The important thing is to love life"

That is not biblical that is for sure. John 12:25"

Oops, dan, you're right. I forgot to put up my warning for unwary Christians. Here it is:

"Warning: the words you are about to read are those of an avowed atheist, and could imperil your immortal soul if you are not equipped with appropriate anti-atheist-virus software. Proceed at your own eternal risk".

Is that better? :lol:

Btw- if any of you are ever in Vienna, drop me a line and I'll treat you to a special atheist coffee or beer.

Heather said...

Jenny,

I understand what you're saying, and I understand the reasons behind why the woman and others were pleading with the in-law.

But think about what this says about life -- suppose this in-law spent his entire life trying to living 'godly,' as in he loved others, he pursued justice and he lived the way we would expect a Christian to live. Except none of that matters, and the death-bed conversion plea is discounting any of the good the man did in his life, and almost his entire life, period. It is saying that nothing he did mattered to anyone, because he doesn't have the right beliefs. Life itself, and anything it offers, is discounted because the only thing that matters is the afterlife. Salvation should be so much more than just a deathbed conversion because that just seems ... really cheap.

The other problem is that the pleas are also coming from fear. They are afraid for the in-law, yes, but are also sick with fear over the thought of the in-law suffering. Which can come across as doing this to make themselves feel better (in my cynical moments). They are also appealing to the person's potential fear of the afterlife location, which means that it is still playing on the dying person's fear. It is pleading with the person, even with sincerity and love, to make a choice that escapes a life of torment, and the only way for that to be effective to the dying person is to pull out the fear card.

Regardless of the motivation, this bothers me because I really don't like what it says about people, and what it reduces this life to.

jennypo said...

Heather,
I agree fully that deathbed pleadings are cheap. They are straws to be grasped at only by the very desperate or the very foolish.
Most of us couldn't change our minds in such a situation even if we wanted to.
Thanks for the "thinkings".

Heather said...

Thanks, Jenny.

To clarify, I did truly understand what you were saying. The woman who had the original post wasn't commenting due to arrogance, but out of genuine concern for her in-law. However, it still bothered me, as you could probably tell. ;)

For me, salvation is part of a healing process. I see true Christianity, and true spirituality as a whole, as something that someone chooses when they are tired of the flesh-driven life, for lack of a better word. They are tired of the anger they hold, or the lust, or the fear, and want something better. Something that is outside of themselves.

Which is why I think it's a lot harder to reject God than some people think. Rather, what people end up rejecting is a concept of God, or a graven image almost. If the in-law who died did pursue something outside himself, if he pursued the light, or truth, or love, then he was living a life of salvation. For all we know, the in-law did have the Christ living in his heart -- he simply didn't use the same words or concepts that we did.

John Shuck said...

Worrying about the fate of one's soul is about the worrier not the worried. Thanks Heather!

Heather said...

Thanks, John. :) If God is just and loving and true ... then S/He's got it completely covered.

SocietyVs said...

"Zilch said "The important thing is to love life"...That is not biblical that is for sure. John 12:25" (Dan)

I think the idea of 'loving ourselves' is biblical. If we love ourself then we will 'love life' - it makes no sense to 'hate life' (in totality). Jesus seems to be pointing to the idea that we need to 'lose our life to find it' - ie: dropping what was important to us to be re-examined in the light of this faith's teachings (ex: as a value greed can change to sharing). I would find it awfuly warped if we literally 'hated life' and how contradictory this would be to Jesus' 2 commandments. I am not saying aspects of our lives do not need to be challenged and dropped - they do (ex: bitternesses for forgiveness) but Jesus did not teach me to hate 'life' - the same thing he came to give abundantly (also in John). Sorry - your view of that scripture is warped.


"I am 100% sure I am going to heaven as God promised." (Dan)

Within your belief system this 100% assurance is impossible - since you cannot guarantee your place in heaven anymore than anyone else - also you seem to talk about a faith that 'earns it way' to heaven (ie: believing the right beliefs and you will be good - if not - go to hell). You believing 'earns' you a spot in heaven (not Christ's total sacrifice - since you believing adds something to that event).

You can't assure nothing Dan - and you will eventually learn this - for some odd reason - you don't see of the gaping dogmatic holes within the Christian faith right now - and you pretend they are non-existent. Old wineskins break and cannot be patched. What the church needs now is 'new wineskins' altogether.

Dan Marvin said...

I think the idea of 'loving ourselves' is biblical. can you back this up with scripture? I have a few to back up what I am saying here:

Proverbs 20:6 Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?

Romans 7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Revelation 3:17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

We are all wretched sinners and deserve hell. That is why we must humble ourselves to God. God said "How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me?"

Within your belief system this 100% assurance is impossible - since you cannot guarantee your place in heaven anymore than anyone else

Not true, in John 3 we all know what it says "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

"You believing 'earns' you a spot in heaven"  From my Blog: "Most religions like Catholicism, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Muslims are all “work based religions” and are of the devil for many reasons, God says that there is nothing that we can do to earn our way to heaven and that is what all these religions are about, that if you follow that 5 pillars or confess your sins to a man or if you say hail to Mary, fast, meditate and do good works enough that it will get you to heaven, nothing can be further from the truth. Besides not trusting in Jesus alone they believe they can do something to earn salvation, it is a gift from God, nothing you do will earn your way to heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Works count after salvation to show gratefulness, but will not get you to heaven. That is why they drove the planes into the towers because they believed they could "do something" to earn heaven but they were wrong and most all religions are wrong."

It is all about repentance and faith in Jesus and then you are saved. The chosen know without doubt that they were chosen and saved, the ones who are not chosen still wonder if they are saved. 2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

When you are saved through his grace you know and understand it completely. The fact that you believe in or accept Jesus doesn’t matter, what matters is does Jesus accepts you and believes in you enough to save you. I thought I was a Christian for years but I just believed in Jesus but that doesn’t matter (I found out later) what matters is if Jesus knows who YOU are. When I realized I was breaking and broke most all of his Commandments and realized I deserved hell. I had a true broken and contrite heart and I REPENTED and put all my faith and TRUST in Jesus. At that moment I understood him and I knew I was saved for eternity.

I love you enough to tell you that you are wrong, now go get saved!

Heather said...

Dan,

**can you back this up with scripture? I have a few to back up what I am saying here:** Loving your neighbor as yourself is a big one, which is part of the greatest commandments.

** Besides not trusting in Jesus alone they believe they can do something to earn salvation, it is a gift from God, ** But you are also doing something, which is Society's point. You are repenting and having faith in Jesus -- which is an action. It no longer becomes about Christ's sacrifice on the cross, the focus goes to whether you have the right reaction to that sacrifice. You are the instrument of your own salvation, because of the actions you perform, through repentence and faith. As Society said: your believing earns you a spot in heaven. Under this system, it becomes all about rewards. Believe in the right thing to 'earn' a reward.

**The fact that you believe in or accept Jesus doesn’t matter, what matters is does Jesus accepts you and believes in you enough to save you.** Then you don't know. Because you may not have repented enough, or been faithful enough. You might have only repented 98%, and are deceived into thinking you've repented the full 100%.

SocietyVs said...

Thanks Heather for the response - very poignant and beautiful.

"I think the idea of 'loving ourselves' is biblical. can you back this up with scripture? I have a few to back up what I am saying" (Dan)

The 2nd commandment from Jesus was very simple but means a lot - 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself'. This is only possible if you have th ability to love who God made you to be (know thyself). It is in this realization that we wake up to the compassion for our neighbor.

"that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Real question is: how deep does your belief have to be to be salvific or 'saving of your soul'? If Jesus tuly did die for all of us - we cannot add anything to that action (in the past) - but we can respect that life by following the teachings of love/peace Jesus taught.

"2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory."

See vs. 13 - "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself" - interesting don;t ya think?

"I love you enough to tell you that you are wrong, now go get saved!" (Dan)

Thanks Dan for the concern - I appreciate that. I have enjoyed our convo's.

Heather said...

Thanks, Society.

**This is only possible if you have th ability to love who God made you to be (know thyself). ** And I wholeheartedly agree with this. After all, God's works are perfect, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. It's time to rediscover the man made in God's image, which is a journey.