I have pondered writing something like this for many years, but have refrained since there is always a close friend who is in a health crisis and I do not want to come across as insensitive to their pain.
Nonetheless, after years of forbearing, I now feel more concerned about the consequences of my silence than the pain caused by my sharing my perspective.
Add to that, the fact that the series on how I see the future would not be complete without discussing THE issue that is central to the largest number of people.
All of us are formed to some degree by the views of the culture we are exposed to. Humor me while I share my pilgrimage, because it is quite different from yours, and contributes heavily to the conclusions I reach.
I grew up in Brazil where life expectancy was short. In part this was due to the rough features of life in the jungle and in part due to the lack of medical help. The combination of the two, produced widespread passivity in medical crises.
If someone had a serious snake bite, or an accident in the jungle, or developed cancer, there was little expectation of recovery, and therefore minimal emotional energy was expended in fighting for life. A dying man or woman spent their last few minutes or hours surrounded by the grief of those who would soon be losing a loved one.
I found the fatalism in that culture to be unsettling. It did not resonate with me, even though I could readily see that accidents happen and medical help was utterly unavailable. The logic was unimpeachable, but I could never quite buy into the resignation.
Coming to the States gave me whiplash on this issue. Suddenly, death was considered an extreme aberration. Anyone, with any terminal disease, was expected to fight hard against death, investing huge emotional, spiritual and financial resources in the battle, recruiting large groups of friends to intercede on their behalf.
The American mindset that death should not be allowed, could not have been farther from my childhood experience.
This fighting attitude was more my style. I bought in and fought hard for my friends for about two decades. I have done daily prayer with people who were called terminal by the doctors. I have fought in every way I knew how to fight to keep people alive, even flying across the country to try to raise them from the dead.
My results were meager.
This caused me to step back and examine the bigger picture. After wrestling with the issue for a year, I decided there was one (or more) of three distinct issues at play here.
1) Our techniques are seriously sub par.
2) Our authority level is pathetic.
3) Maybe it wasn’t God’s will for all of those people to live.
I felt pretty strongly that #1 was an issue. I didn’t know what to do differently, but it felt like what the Church was doing at that time was pretty primitive. Figuring out what non-primitive looked like was a puzzle, but I could admit we had a problem there.
#2 was a no brainer. The answer is yes. That absolutely was part of the problem.
It was #3 where I began to see some real logical disconnects. Here are the issues that I found problematic.
-Almost no one was willing to see death from any cause, at any time, as acceptable. The most extreme case was the person who called up asking for prayer for a family who had just lost their father. The caller went on and on about how traumatized they were because his death was so unexpected and he was in good health.
A little querying revealed the fact that the gentleman in question was 94 years old and had died in his sleep. Let’s see. 94 years old and his death is totally unexpected? Umm . . . there is a word for that and it is “denial.”
The family may be deeply saddened by the loss of their patriarch, but unexpected? Come on now.
But honestly, there is neither theology nor custom in our Christian community for someone to die with grace and be released by the family. Where are the teachings about Jacob and others who went home at a ripe old age, knowing their time had come?
Where are the teachings about how a patriarch or matriarch should prepare the family for the time of their passing? Why do we have no ceremonies for the passing on of generational blessings prior to death?
I came to the conclusion that the American Christian culture was deficient. It would be one thing to discuss whether their theology of appropriate death was accurate, but to have NO theology of appropriate death is troubling. To be blunt, I have known only three men in my 37 years in the States who were diagnosed with a terminal illness and told their families, “This is my time to go. Let’s prepare for the transition.” Three. Slim pickings!
-The prophetic community has been nearly uniform in pronouncing life over the terminally ill people. Now setting aside the fact that the prophets have been flat-out dead wrong thousands of times on the issue of whether people would be miraculously healed, it strikes me as odd that I have never heard of a prophet hearing from God that someone’s time is up.
Surely it has happened, but it certainly is rare. Isn’t it odd that God in Scripture overtly sent prophets to certain people to tell them flat-out that their disease was terminal and they should prepare accordingly? Why doesn’t God ever seem to show the same courtesy today?
-What about consequences for our actions? Should we expect God to just ignore the biological results of our choices? If we have a lifestyle of violating the Biblical principles of good health, and we are diagnosed with an illness that is directly in line with our bad choices, can we really expect a ten second confession to wipe out 60 years of biological sins?
Scripture is VERY clear that God does do this. Sometimes. It is called mercy and He does dispense it to some, but I struggle with the average Christian’s EXPECTATION that they should not be held accountable for their environmental and dietary choices.
I struggle even more with having a large group of Christians who are still committing those same sins, and are utterly unrepentant, demanding that God heal the person of the consequences of his choices. This does not feel to me like the quintessential recipe for high spiritual authority.
-What about the issue of generational blessings and the timing of their release? Scripture seems to suggest that some times the end of one life is designed to launch another life.
Take Isaac. God did not release the generational blessings to him until the day Abraham died. Isaac, by contrast, released the blessings at least 21 years before he died, and Jacob sure needed some supernatural wind in his sails, while working for Laban.
What about Jesus? It appears that Joseph was dead by the time Jesus began His ministry. Did God take Joseph’s life “early” so that Jesus would have those generational blessings operant from the very beginning of His ministry?
The concept is presented in a parallel context with the ascension of Jesus. The apostles were fixated on the loss. Jesus brushed it aside and told them that His departure was a prerequisite for the coming of the Spirit — a better gift.
I have watched this play out for years. There are elderly people, often widows, who were ready to go home at 72 and cannot understand why God kept them here past the age of 90. Yet shortly after they die, one of their children or grandchildren takes a massive lurch forward in their life.
Did God keep her alive so that her generational blessings could be released at a strategic juncture in someone’s life? I think it is a possible explanation for many long lives that are unappreciated.
Likewise, when someone dies at 50 it is seen as a massively inappropriate thing. Yet, I wonder if that dad lost his life in an accident or through a heart attack so that a son or daughter could receive the blessings they needed at just the right time to send them soaring.
Somewhere in this whole debate there needs to be some room for the wisdom of God to overrule our small world view.
-Finally there is the issue of history and the persecution of the Church. Have you ever read Foxes Book of Martyrs or some similar volume. There are two unarguable bits of data.
One is that a massive number of deeply committed, very godly Christians have been killed over the history of the Church, and God has let it happen. We can start with Stephen.
The second is that the Church has historically thrived when watered with the blood of the martyrs.
Why should our generation and our culture be any different? Can we really say with a straight face that all those spiritual giants died because they lacked faith and didn’t have good spiritual warfare techniques?
I see the sovereignty of God in His allowing James to be murdered and saving Peter from being murdered.
Why? No clue.
Over the centuries, God has saved the lives of thousands of saints who were being persecuted. There are endless miracle stories of those narrow escapes. God has also NOT saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of His saints.
Why? No clue.
So where does that leave me as I look at the future?
First of all, I believe that good stewardship begins with my body, not my wallet. Regardless of the future, I believe that I will have higher spiritual authority if I care for my body than if I sin against it.
Second, if I become ill, I will certainly seek the will of the Lord, trying to be as open-minded as possible, willing to embrace death or fight for life. I will not default to believing it is not my time to go. I will ask as honestly as I can.
Third, I will not allow the enemy to take my life on a whim. I have had times in the past where the Spirit has alerted me that there is a plot against me. I know how to assemble an intercessory team in minutes to fight for my life. I have done it with good results on several occasions. I do not embrace the fatalism of my childhood culture.
Should I end up in a hostile prison situation, I will not just accept death. I will fight for as long as God directs me to fight for my life and that of others around me. But should He tell me it is my time, I will ask only to go out with courage and dignity like my Scottish Covenanter forefathers did.
Fourth, I offer my life to God for use in His Kingdom however it benefits Him the most, including death. At times, I wonder if I am worth more dead than alive. I have worked hard to develop a substantial reservoir of generational blessings which will be dispensed to my physical and spiritual seed when I die (or before if God gives me a heads up).
I know the devil will rue the day that I die, because the treasures I have will be probated in the court of heaven and will be dispensed with speed and power the world over, as the Righteous Judge decrees.
If I die in the midst of a season of civil strife, imagine the positive impact on a large number of people who are in a critical struggle. My death at that precise moment could be the most valuable thing the King can do with me.
Or imagine my dying right at the beginning of a major move of God. I would get to watch the fun from heaven, and my spiritual sons and daughters could be catapulted forward by my generational blessings for maximum efficacy in this new move.
Either way, I will be dangerous. If I live, I will use my life to actively further the agenda of the King. I will be dangerous! And if He chooses to promote me to heaven, I will still be dangerous from there through my generational blessings.
As was said of Abel, “Though he is dead, yet he still speaks.”
I will be a force for good in the Kingdom, dead or alive!
Death, where is your sting!
Copyright April 2011 by Arthur Burk
Written at home