This is an extremely emotive topic and anybody who has been in ministry for a length of time will have faced this particularly painful scenario. I have dealt with several sudden deaths in Niddrie, from overdoses to accidents, young and old. It is a brutal reminder of our mortality and the preciousness of life. Families are left, often bereft, with many questions and the pastoral fallout can be intensely painful. For the one who has died they miss this part of the (after) pain.
Terminal illness, on the other hand, brings with it distinct issues. The person who has the diagnosis wants to have their questions answered. There is the doubt, the fear, the regret and the anger. Guilt is often the biggest issue. Guilt at feeling these emotions. After all, shouldn’t a Christian, upon receiving such devastating news, be celebrating the coming glory? Churches are awash with stories of ‘great saints’ who went to their deaths with a Psalm on their lips and a smile on their face. But the reality, in my experience, is that people feel a whole range of emotions.
Then, we have the loved one of the person who suffers. They feel all the same emotions, with the added burden of ‘staying strong’ and offering a public strength to their private grief. They have to watch the slow decline and then go on living afterward. That may be the hardest part.
Matt Chandler & CJ Mahaney spoke at T4G in 2010 about preparing your church for suffering. Matt is a young pastor from Texas who has recently recovered from a brain tumour. His hour long talk is worth watching. One of their many suggestions was a list of resources to help the church in this particular area. What great joy there is for us as Christians that we have eternal resources at our disposal. Please take the time to watch Matt speak and read the resources here.
May we continue to look to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, strength, hope and abiding peace on our difficult times.