After reviewing the result of blood tests (14 tubes) and a sophisticated ultrasound examination, a specialist declared all clear for a chronic condition that I have had since youth. Kathy, my wife, is much relieved. I asked the MD whether the condition would flare up with old age and he said that, quite the opposite, flare ups get less likely with age. That’s comforting.
Getting old is no fun. Why would we hang on to living regardless of our physical condition? The mother of a good friend recently died in her sleep after struggling with poor health for some months. She is with the Lord now. For her, it’s a release and a relief from her medical conditions. Her loved ones grieve but, as Christians, we know we should rejoice on her behalf. Absence from the earth and flesh and presence with the Lord is wonderful, but the gap between reasonably good health—characterized by physical independence—and death is the pits (pun intended). We hope and pray that this gap for all our loved ones and ourselves will be short and sweet.
Someone else we know is in that gap now. At some point in the last few years, this elderly lady crossed the line from reasonably good health to poor health. Her life is an unremarkable tragedy, a lonely and boring existence. Something poisoned her mind and spirit in the distant past. When dementia or Alzheimer’s disease stripped away the thin veil of civility over abysmal insecurity and fanatical self-protection, she became a cesspool of negativity, lies, and aggression that few can withstand. Few want to interact with her and risk her aggressions. Her daughter experiences pain daily in calling her. That pain is an irritant at best and some days the pain is unbearable. Yet, through Christ, her daughter bears that pain daily. Is that what it means to “take up the cross daily” (Mark 8.34 and Luke 9.23)?
The mystery is: how much can we hold the elderly lady accountable? I think God ultimately holds us accountable for all things in our lives, good and bad, as our loving Father bestowing restorative justice. From a human perspective, however, we are so profoundly shaped by our upbringing, circumstances, mental illnesses, and numerous sins in us that I can’t see how anyone can have victory over such powerful negative earthly forces without Christ. We should not be surprised by the likes of this lady; we should be surprised by how anyone can be not like her without Christ. So, from my severely limited human perspective, the only thing we can be held accountable for is, when we encounter Christ on earth, whether to receive God’s graceful reconciliation and restoration through Christ.
But even this simple accountability can be problematic for us earthly creatures. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have been raised in relatively trustful and loving environments would find it easier to trust and receive love. Those of us who have experienced extensive abusive, negligent, or other hurtful circumstances would likely find it difficult to trust or receive love—even when it’s from Christ.
That’s why I think the equalization among all humans will come at the Great White Throne, the symbolic or actual depiction of our decisive encounter with God after our earthly life (Revelation 20:11-15). Stripped of all earthly and fleshly hindrances and sinful entanglements, we see God in his love, power, glory, and restorative justice, and we have the final opportunity to enter his embrace or turn away and hold on to our shame and pride without his presence—Hell.
Evangelicals typically accept that only in this life can we make a decision for Christ. While possible, it’s not necessarily so. There are different and legitimate alternatives to this doctrine. Many fear that teaching an after-earthly-life decision would cause us to lose the urgency to share our faith, but it should not diminish our desire to share our faith. Jesus calls for us to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17), disciple makers (Matthew 28:19), and witnesses for him (Acts 1:8). Jesus commands his followers in Matthews 25:31-46 to express compassion, offer a cup of water, clothing, and shelter, visit those in prison, heal the sick, etc. There is no lack of teachings for us to express his love to others and especially those who are marginalized.
If we have experienced love, healing, and reconciliation in Christ, we the beggars who have found bread should and must share the Bread of heaven and lead others to the Source through words and deeds. If Christ cares about our earthly and eternal needs (Matthew 6:24-34), then Christians—Christ’s ones—must care about others’ earthly and eternal needs. We should not need the threat of hell to do what our Lord and Savior commands us to do.