Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: death

WHY?

Sunday evening, shortly before sunset, a freight train came shuddering to a stop on the tracks that run about 200 metres west of our house. At first, we didn’t know the reason for the sudden stop. The trees on the west side of our yard hid the mangled pickup from our view.

Slowly, slowly we learned what had happened. A young man driving west facing the blazing sunset. On the open prairie the sun lingers just above the horizon making one lower the visor and try to shield one’s eyes from the glare. Three locomotives pulling about 80 hopper cars loaded with grain coming from the south. They met at the railroad crossing.

It took until the next day to find out that the young man who died, instantly, was the fiancé of a friend of ours. They were filled with love, hope and joy, planning for a happy ever after. Now the dream is ended.

WHY ?

The question is natural, we can’t help wondering why when things like this happen. But there really is no answer, except that we live in a world ruined by the fall.

We dare not look for someone to blame. Who would we blame? The locomotive engineer? He sounded the horn time and again, but he couldn’t steer away. The young man? God? Such thoughts would only lead to bitterness.

Yes, the young man should have seen, should have heard. But he didn’t and it does no good to blame him. Certainly God could have intervened. But He is not the cosmic puppetmaster. He wants our voluntary service, but only in rare instances does He overrule in the events of our lives. “Time and chance happeneth to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

God is the refuge, the source of comfort and strength for one who has suffered such a tragic loss.  Friends and family can help soften the pain. Their words may be inadequate, but their presence and availability speak loudly.

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The battles of life

Ah, simple boy! – well had it been for thee
Had thy ambitious longing been confined
To objects wisely placed beyond thy grasp.
But years stole on – thy ardent spirit broke
Its childish trammels, and with eager joy
Explored the warlike annals of the past,
And called up spirits of the mighty dead,
To set their hostile armies in array,
And fight for thee their sanguine battles o’er.
Oh, while such visions burst on thy sight,
While shouts of victory and dying groans
Rang on thine ear – time backward rolled his tide,
Rome in her ancient splendour proudly rose,
And murdered Caesar lived again in thee!

Young fiery soldier – let us trace thy steps
Through danger’s stormy paths, to win the goal
Of all thy lofty and ambitious hopes.
Wedded to glory, thy brave heart springs forth
To win thy bride from valour’s armed hand,
And pluck the laurel from the brow of death.
A novice in the camp and new to arms,
The bugle lulls thee to repose, the trumpet
Thrills on thy sleeping ear and bids thee dream
Of deathless fields in fancy fought and won.
At length the day of trial comes – the day
Which puts thy boasted courage to the proof –
Thy first in battle, and perchance thy last.
The camp is broken up, the air is rent
With strains of martial music, the loud neigh
Of prancing steeds, impatient for the strife,
With clang of arms, and oft-repeated shouts
Of warriors who impatiently leap forth
with reckless hardihood to meet their doom.

With beating heart, firm step, and flashing eye,
The young recruit of glory proudly grasps
The standard he must only yeild with life.
The march commences – deep excitement grows
To fiery expectation – he forgets
Amid the hurried interest of the scene,
The crown he fights for only can be won
Through seas of slaughter and the waste of life.
Alas! How few devoted hearts like his
Survive their first engagement with the foe.
Death strikes the hero to the dust. He falls
In honour’s mantle, the triumphant cry
Of victory on his pallid lips expires!

But what are conquests of the bow and spear,
And Alexander’s victories compared
With the stern warfare which the soul maintains
Against the subtle tempter of mankind –
The base corruption of a sinful world –
An evil conscience and a callous heart?
Oh, vanquish these – and through the gates of death
Triumphant pass and win a heavenly crown!

– Susanna Moodie, an excerpt from Enthusiasm

FAME, part 2

Oh think not genius, with its hallowed light,
Can break the gloom of the eternal night;
For splendid talents often lead astray
The unguarded heart, and hide the narrow way,
While the unlearned and those of low estate,
With faith’s clear eyes behold the living gate,
Whose portals open on the shoreless sea
Where time’s strong ocean meets eternity.
Across the gulf that stretches far beneath
Lies the dark valley of the shade of death –
A land of deep forgetfulness, – a shore
Which all must traverse, but return no more
To this sad earth to dissipate our dread,
And tell the mighty secrets of the dead.
Enough for us that these drear realms were trod
By heavenly footsteps, that the Son of God
Passed the dark bourne and vanquished Death, to save
The weary wanderers of life’s stormy wave.

Why then should man thus cleave to things of earth?
Daily experience proves their little worth –
Or waste those noble qualities of mind,
For wise and better purposes designed,
In pursuit of trifles, which confer
No solid pleasure on their worshipper;
Or in the search of causes that are known
And guided by Omnipotence alone?
A height his finite reason cannot reach,
And all his boasted learning fails to teach?
While the bewildering thought overwhelms his brain,
Death comes to prove his speculations vain!

Is he deserving of a better doom
Who will not raise a hope beyond the tomb?
Who, quite enamoured with his fallen state,
Clings to the world and leaves the rest to fate;
Prefers corruption to his Maker’s smile,
“And shuns the light because his deeds are vile?”
The man who feels the value of his soul,
Presses unwearied towards a higher goal;
Leaving this earth, he seeks a brighter prize,
And claims a crown immortal in the skies.
The child of pleasure may despise his aim,
And heap reproach upon the Christian’s name,
May laugh his faith, as foolishness, to scorn: –
These by the man of God are meekly borne.
His glorious hope no infidel can shake;
Her suffers calmly for his Saviour’s sake.–

The world’s poor votary seeks in vain for peace:
He cannot bid the voice of conscience cease
Its dire upbraidings; in his heartless course
He meets at every turn the fiend Remorse,
Who glares upon him with his tearless eye,
That sears his heart – but mocks its agony.
He hears that voice, amid the festive throng,
Speak in the dance and murmur in the song,
A death-bell, pealing in the midnight chime,
Whose awful tones proclaim the lapse of time,
And e’er the winged moments as they fly
Seem to proclaim – “Rash mortal, thou must die!
Soon must thou tread the path thy fathers trod,
And stand before the judgment-seat of God!”–
He hears – but seeks in pleasure’s cup to drown
The dread that weighs his ardent spirit down;
Derides the warning voice in mercy sent;
Rejects the thought of after-punishment;
In folly’s vortex wastes the spring of youth,
Nor, till death summons, owns the awful truth;
Feels it too late to calm the agonies
Remorse has kindled – and despairing, dies!

But in the breast where true religion reigns
There is a balm for all these mental pains;
A sweet contentment, felt, but undefined,
A full and free surrender of the mind
To its divine original; a trust
Which lifts to heaven the dweller of the dust.
The pilgrim, glowing with a hope divine,
Counts not the distance to the heavenly shrine;
He meets with guardian spirits on the road,
Who cheer his steps and ease his heavy load.
Serenely journeying to a better clime
He does not shudder at the lapse of time;
But calmly drinks the cup of mortal woe,
And finds that peace the world cannot bestow;
That promised joy which brightens all beneath,
And smooths his pillow on the bed of death;
That perfect love which casteth out all fear;
And wafts his spirit to a happier sphere! –

Fame is a dream – the praise of man as brief
As morning dew upon the folded leaf;
The summer sun exhales the pearly tear,
And leaves no trace of his existence there.
Seek not for immortality below,
But fix your hopes beyond this vale of woe,
That when oblivion gathers round thy sod,
A lasting record may be found with God!

[This lengthy poem comes from a book by Susanna Moodie, Enthusiasm and Other Poems,  published in 1831, the year before she and her husband came to Canada.]

A more honest version of the shepherd psalm

Mammon is my shepherd; I shall always want more.

He gives me no rest; he makes me to always desire greener pastures and more dangerous waters.

He gives me emptiness and leads me in paths that offer shiny and exciting things to fill that emptiness.

But when I come to the valley of the shadow of death, he abandons me to my fears; wealth and luxury give no help nor comfort there.

Though I have what I need, he shows me that others have more and better than I.

Surely envy and greed shall follow me all the days of my life: and I don’t want to think of what may be after that.

[Who is your shepherd?]

Ebola

That fearsome disease,
The deaths do not cease.
Who can help when such fear
Clutches all who are near?

Disease is a curse,
Fear just makes it worse.
We flee those who would help.
Trust things that cannot help.

Thousands are dying,
Thousands are trying
To arrest the bleeding,
And stop it from spreading.

Has a cure been found?
Will it go around?
Can science stop the curse?
Or will it still get worse?

Ebola will pass.
Leave behind a mass
Of graves, sorrows, questions.
Who can tell the reason?

The sin plague remains;
All mankind it stains.
Science gives us no might
To protect from this blight.

Yet down from heaven
The cure is given;
The fountain filled with blood –
 The remedy of God.

Truth before their eyes
Is hid from the wise.
Then go to those in need,
The way of life to plead.

Though their life be drear
Don’t recoil in fear.
The word of life make plain
Live it, tell it again.

Copyright © August 16, 2014, Bob Goodnough

[I make no claim to poetic skill. My wife is the chief poet in the family, our daughter is second, though for the present her children claim her time and attention. But these thoughts came to me yesterday and seemed to make sense only in poetic format.]

Knowing who the true enemy is

While driving through downtown Saskatoon today, my wife and I noticed a billboard for the University of Lethbridge, which boasted “We teach you how to think, not what to think.” I wonder how true that is. As far as one can tell, the whole public education system in our country is committed to teaching and enforcing the doctrines of secular humanism – neo-Darwinism, atheism, the meaninglessness of life, etc.

The mass media are entirely supportive of this doctrine, acting in unison as a propaganda machine for it.  Some politicians may not be entirely at ease with this doctrine, but none dare say so openly.

Yet the “scientific” arguments of the New Atheists are incoherent and have no actual scientific foundation. Why is it that no one seems to be listening when it is pointed out that “the emperor has no clothes?”

It is because the people in academia and the media are only front men for a massive spiritual onslaught on mankind. Our true enemy is not people, but “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Satan has duped people into seeing him and his messengers as angels of light, bringing the message of sweet reason to a world long held captive by belief in God.

However, the outcome of Satan’s message of light always tends to death. Christians are concerned, and rightly so, by the slaughter of millions of unborn babies and the creeping acceptance of euthanasia. There is also the slow and sure death of the soul as people are convinced that there is no meaning to life, no reason to hope, and no reason to care about others. Is it any wonder that suicide has become an epidemic in our day?

What the world needs is not better teachers, better reporters, or better politicians. They would all be subverted by the prevailing despair and spiritual darkness of our age. What the world needs is Christians who can explain why the existence of God gives meaning to all of life and to every individual life. God is not a vindictive monster who wants to make life miserable for us. He is a loving God who wants to give us a living hope that our life is precious to Him, that we can find joy and fulfilment in life, and that He has something even better planned for us in the life to come. It is true that “God is angry with the sinner every day,” but that is simply because sin leads to death and God wants us to live, truly live.

There are people who attempt to accommodate themselves to the thinking of the world, yet live as though they believed in God. They are attempting to appear intellectually respectable to the world, and at the same time fit in among Christians. Isn’t this the frog spirit described in the book of Revelation? Frogs are amphibious, able to seem at home  in the water (the world) and on the dry land (among Christians). This is not the way to lead an overcoming Christian life.

The meaning of Romans 12:2 is that we should not allow our thinking to be moulded after the prevailing thought of the age we live in, but that our thinking should be transformed by the renewing of the mind. That will set us free to allow God to use us to do His work here on earth.

The world needs such people. I believe that it would be possible to turn the world upside down once more if Christians could grasp the true liberating power of the gospel message. Yes there are people who desperately want to believe that there is no God to whom they will have to give account for their actions. Nevertheless, God has created all men and women with a heart that will feel empty and alienated until they experience the love of God. Don’t we have an obligation to speak plainly to the real needs of such people?

The apostle Paul makes three statements in Romans 1:14-16 that should be the motto of every Christian:

I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

I am ready to preach the gospel.

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.

Do we feel that debt? Can we truly say that we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ? How ready are we to do something about it?

If the Lord will

I had planned to begin my first post of the New Year with this thought even before the event that I will mention later.  I don’t find it useful to make New Year’s Resolutions – like most people I can’t keep them anyway.  I could declare that  I resolve to lose 40 pounds in 2014.  That sounds like a great idea, what are the odds of it happening?

I have aspirations, things I would really like to do in the coming year.  Eating less and exercising more would be part of that, not with a specific weight loss goal, but with a desire to be more active and healthy.

I would like to finish a couple of books over the coming twelve months.  One will be fairly short – the history of a congregation that existed 100 years ago, and the disagreements that scattered the members.  The other will be a compilation of some of the posts on this blog about my personal history of becoming a Christian and then becoming a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.

I said a compilation, but it will be more of a complete rewrite, to make the story coherent and to make it readable.  Those who read this blog will have noticed the typos and uneven quality that are due to posting before I take time to reflect on what I’ve written.  What I’m doing is putting this stuff out on the public square to see if anyone notices and what they notice.

All my plans are subject to that little phrase “if the Lord will.”  I really don’t know what kinds of surprises the coming year may bring.  Experience tells me there will be both joy and sorrow, and that I need the grace of God to cope with both.

We had a forceful reminder of the reality of “if the Lord will” on New Years Eve.  Our daughter cooked at Silverwood Villa that day and after supper she began making the traditional Mennonite New Year’s cookies.  They are small deep fried fritters dusted with icing sugar.  Perhaps they are called cookies because the original Ukrainian name is too hard to pronounce.

A dozen of us were sitting around visiting,, playing games and eating New Year’s cookies when the phone rang at 10 p.m.  It was a message on our congregation’s automated calling service, informing us that brother Dave Fehr had died of a heart attack.  Dave and his wife, both 77, returned home at 7 p.m. from visiting their children in Manitoba.  Dave went back out to shovel the snow from in front of the garage door in order to park the van inside.  When he didn’t come back in, his wife looked out to check and saw him lying on the doorstep.  Life was already gone.

Dave lost two wives to cancer.  His third wife was a widow when she married him.  The extended family was huge and they loved nothing better than to travel to visit them all.  Dave lived at peace with God and with his fellow men.  He had a medical checkup a few weeks earlier and the doctor found no cause for concern.  None of us have any guarantees.  “Ye know not what shall be on the morrow” (James 4:14).

Precious memories

My mother died seven years ago today, December 31, 2006 at 9:00 p.m.  If she had lived another 18 days, she would have been 99.

Not that I would have wished another 18 days for her just so she could reach that landmark.  She began to show signs of dementia in her early nineties and her last couple of years were difficult.  Then she caught a norovirus that was going round the nursing home where she lived.  She recovered from that, but it left her so weakened that she only lived a few more days.

She lived with us until she needed more care than we could provide at home.  Then we placed her in the Mennonite Nursing Home at Rosthern, Saskatchewan.  This was a wonderful place.  It helped Mom that in her confused state she decided this was the house her Uncle Pete had built.  Uncle Pete’s house must have been much smaller than this sprawling nursing home complex, and it was hundreds of miles away.  Never mind, it made Mom feel like she was not in a totally unfamiliar place.

Mom did not want to get dressed in the morning, because the clothes the staff wanted here to put on were not her clothes.  The trouble was that the only clothes she would have recognized by this time were the clothes that she had worn 75 years ago.  The staff people were patient with her and eventually coaxed her to let them help her get dressed anyway.

She fought when they tried to give her a bath and the staff asked for permission to sedate her at those times.  We gave our permission, but they never did use a sedative, finding ways to get her bathed without too much stress.

When our daughter was expecting her first child, almost five years earlier, Grandma was the first person she told and Grandma rejoiced with her.  Later, Grandma had a dim understanding that Michelle had a second child.  Now, in Grandma’s very last days, Michelle brought her third child, four months old, and showed her to Grandma.  The smile that Grandma gave was a little glimmer of light in that dark time.  We weren’t sure by then if Mom even knew who we were anymore, but the sight of the baby must have brought some happy thoughts.

The funeral was in Moose Jaw, where Mom had lived for many years.  We were touched by all the family and friends who came to show that they cared.  There were a few more details to look after and then we were left with our memories.

The memories of the difficult lady my mother became in her last years have faded and I am left with sixty years of memories of the wonderful, sweet lady that my mother really was.  She was born with congenital hip dysplasia and in later years told me that she had never walked without pain.  Yet she went on walks with me when I was little, even ran foot races with me.  She was a hard-working farm wife, cooking, baking, canning, and all the other tasks of making a home.  I remember her singing hymns in the vehicle whenever we drove any distance.  She loved to read and was my first and best teacher.

When I married, she accepted my wife as a daughter and they became very close.  She was delighted when a new generation began with the birth of our daughter.  When we moved to Eastern Canada she came and spent a couple of weeks with us each year.  We tried to get back to Moose Jaw every second year.  When Michelle was nine years old and my wife was going through weekly chemotherapy after cancer surgery, Mom came and spent several months with us, keeping the home running smoothly while Chris sometimes felt so tired.  Just having Mom there made this time easier for us all.

It doesn’t lessen the pain of parting to know a loved one is near death.  When the earthly ties that bind us together are cut, there will be pain.  Healing comes from in facing that pain and going through a proper funeral, sharing memories with friends and family, and accepting that this person who has been part of one’s life forever is not here anymore.  When the pain of parting has healed, the good memories come flooding back.

Time is NOT on my side

Minister Isaac Akinyombo of Nigeria, while preaching in a Canadian congregation, told the story of a lady in his country that got converted and wanted to be part of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.  There was a little problem, however: she intended to dance at her mother’s funeral and she was told that the church in Nigeria considered that to be a sin.

Her mother wasn’t dead yet, mind you, or anywhere near to being dead.  But in their culture it is terribly important to follow all the right procedures at a funeral so that the spirit of the departed one can find rest and not return to trouble the living.  It is not just dancing, but that is a major part and it involves serious non-Christian beliefs about death and the life hereafter.

This young lady could not face opting out of the tradition which her family would expect of her.  So she said, “OK, I will wait until my mother dies and I will dance at her funeral, then I will come to the church.”  Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  There would be lots of time, she was young, her mother was old.

Brother Isaac paused momentarily, then sadly added, “The poor lady died before her mother did.”   Time was not on her side after all.

I attended a small town school here in Saskatchewan, about an hour and a half from where I now live.   I graduated from high school at the age of 17.  Four of my fellow students died over the next four years.

One was driving way too fast in a snow storm and rear ended a semi.  He had been drinking, but even when we are sober it’s easy to make foolish choice in the reduced visibility of a snow storm.  I recall a time when I had been visiting my future wife and was making the return journey to the town where I worked.  The semi in front of me was driving way to slow and I pulled out to pass.  I got about halfway past when I saw headlights coming toward me through the swirling snow.  I hit the brakes, hard, and got back into my lane just in time to let the oncoming semi go by.  From there on I contentedly followed the semi  in front of me.

Another young man was helping his father dig trenches for water and sewer lines to their house.  They were digging deep trenches, entirely by hand,  a wall collapsed on him and his life was over.

Another boy wanted to escape the flat Canadian prairies and see the world, so he enlisted in the US Navy.  He went through training and specialized in radio communications.  The day finally came when he boarded an aircraft carrier and departed on his dream of seeing the world.  A day out from land an electrical problem caused a fire in the communications cabin and he died.

Then there was a young lady, only 9 or 10 days younger than me.    She was a slim, active, clean-living young lady, a preacher’s daughter.  There was no advance warning that anything was wrong, yet she suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 21.

Nevertheless, we still tend to think that we have all the time in the world to consider God’s call and decide what to do about it.  Of course there are cases of people getting converted late in life.  One of those, a lady who was born again at the age of 90, was asked what was the greatest sin she ever committed.  Without hesitation she responded, “Refusing the call of God when I was 17.”

Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  Isaiah 55:6-7

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