THE URGENCY OF ETERNITY, SALT MAGAZINE (JUNE 2007) BY CINDY MCDERMOTT
I stand by the bedside of my patient and watch her take her last breath. I’ve been standing here for some time, and it feels like time has stood still. I notice how q u i e t l y death overcomes and life ebbs away. How many times have I found myself at just such a bedside. Yet each time is an overwhelming s p i r i t u a l experience.
I ponder life and death and realize that death is merely the absence of life. And life is intangible. Though we feel it, we cannot grasp it. Though we possess it, we cannot hold onto it. I have seen death come slowly and I have seen it come suddenly and unexpectedly. We try to hold onto life and prevent it from departing. We force a heart to beat and push air into lungs, but we are not imparting life. Only God can breathe into a person the breath of life, and it is His to take away at His will.
And now as I see death creep in and life slowly cease, it causes me a great deal of contemplation. I grieve for this person’s family and friends; their lives have been forever changed in this moment. I’m reminded of my own loved ones’ mortality – as well as my own. I realize that we are guaranteed nothing in regards to this earthly life – neither health nor length of days. I see again how horrible this world is compared to what heaven is like. And I realize quite profoundly that this soul before me has begun its eternity, though I am not sure where. How many time have I heard co-workers say, “She looks so peaceful”? How many times have I heard them utter, “At least she is not suffering anymore”? Do they not understand? Have they not heard? The body is a shell. Death is not the end, but a beginning. Religion is not a mere philosophical exercise nor a personal crutch to meet one’s emotional needs. Spiritual truth is not different from one person to another. What a person believes about Jesus Christ will determine their eternal destiny. There is only one truth.
I wish I could shake them into understanding. I have often spoken about my beliefs with others, but I know the urgency is not always there. Eternity gets clouded by the temporal. We get distracted by the earthly priorities of the day. We can’t hear our heavenly calling through the din of our fallen world. Our feet get entangled by the sin and worries in our lives and we forget the race we are running. And while our citizenship is in heaven, we forget the responsibilities which that involves.
When we do feel moved to share our faith, we often too much fear offending, all the while the destiny of souls is hanging in the balance. We claim we have the love of Christ, but we find it difficult to love that person enough to risk being misunderstood or rejected to tell them God’s truth. How shameful it would be if we look across that great chasm at the end of time and see the souls of those we knew, in torment, crying out, “Didn’t you care enough for me to tell me?” How pointed the words we read in Ezekiel 3:16-19: “At the end of seven days the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, “You will surely die,” and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.’ ” Do we hear God speaking to us?
We do not exist for our own purposes, but for the purposes of God. By His incredible grace we have been saved – such grace that should compel us to share the Gospel with others. Freely we have received; freely we should give. And it is our duty. Paul wrote, “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.” (1 Cor. 9:16-17) May we share the passion and focus of Paul: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again…And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5) The message is clear. The message is simple. Who will we see today that needs to hear it?`
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) Let us ever be mindful of the urgency and inevitability of eternity. May it affect what we do today.