Monthly Archives: July 2014

Care for the Dying

Munch-Det-Syke-Barn-1896-wikipedia-US-public-domain

Edvard Munch, “The Sick Child” (1896)

After two deaths and three funerals in just nine days, I’ve been thinking a lot about death. Watching a loved one die can be a sorrowful experience even for believers who have the presence of the Holy Spirit and the hope of eternal life. But the time before the end can also be an important time for giving and receiving love and forgiveness as well as preparing for death. Here are some tips on how to care for and minister to those who are dying:

  1. Be knowledgeable. To help those who are dying we must understand the meaning of death. Death is the separation of the soul from the body. Death doesn’t mean that the person has stopped breathing or that their heart has stopped beating or even that they are “brain dead.” The soul isn’t “in” the lungs, heart, or brain. It isn’t in any particular part of the body. The only way we can know for sure that the soul has left the body with moral certainty is when the process of corruption has begun. We must treat all who are in the process of dying with Christian love and dignity, even when death seems imminent.
  2. Be patient. While there is no moral imperative to prolong life by unnatural means, we shouldn’t hasten death. God calls people home in His timing. It is difficult to watch people suffer, especially those we love, but as Christians we believe that there can be spiritual benefit in suffering.
  3. Be honest. Don’t try to spare a dying person’s feelings by telling him that he will recover and don’t use euphemisms to discuss death. As Christians we should always tell the truth, even when it hurts. Being honest will help the dying person prepare for death. Dishonesty only feeds denial and prevents the dying person from being able to prepare mentally and spiritually for death.
  4. Be receptive. Ask the dying person what they need. If they can’t talk, try to get moisture to their mouth. Do what you can to meet the dying person’s needs, but be honest if they ask for something you can’t provide.
  5. Be creative. Try to create a comforting and meaningful atmosphere for the dying person. Play or sing Christian songs. Bring sound recordings of the Bible or voices of loved ones. Read aloud. If the person loved baseball or crochet, decorate their room with objects that remind them of their favorite pastimes.
  6. Be realistic. Even if you are the primary caregiver, you can’t be there for the dying person 24/7. You need time to eat, sleep, cry, and recharge. Arrange for respite care. You will be a better caregiver if you take care of yourself.
  7. Be prayerful. Pray for and with the dying person. If possible, pray so they can hear you. Even those who are in a coma may be able to hear your prayers. Pray that the person would die ready to meet God, not just that they would have less pain or go quickly. If you’re not sure whether the person is truly a believer, invite them to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Don’t hesitate to call on a minister to pray for or with someone who is dying.

Death can be unpleasant but it doesn’t have to be terrifying. The Psalmist says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). It can become precious in our sight too when we have God’s perspective of death.

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Blame It On Eve?

Anna Lea Merritt Eve

Eve Overcome By Remorse (1885) Anna Lea Merritt (1844-1930), oil on canvas

Blame it on Eve. The first sinner. She’s the one who ate the forbidden fruit first and got Adam and her kicked out of the Garden of Eden. She’s the reason that women suffer in childbirth and are subjected to male domination. Had she not implicated Adam in her sin, man could have stayed in paradise and wouldn’t have had to work so hard to coax enough food from the ground. It makes you wonder whether God knew what he was talking about when he said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Maybe he would have been better off without her.

The story of paradise lost – to steal a phrase from Milton – begins when God makes a perfect garden where his newly created humans can live in peace and harmony with nature and with God. Adam and Eve are vegetarians; the animals are too (Gen. 1:29-30). There is only one rule: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:16b). A talking snake sidles up to Eve and tells her that if she eats from the tree of knowledge she will be like God: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). After a brief hesitation she takes, eats, and gives the fruit to Adam. (There’s no mention of an apple; we don’t know what kind of fruit it was.) For their disobedience they are banished from the garden. God curses the snake (who must slither on his belly and eat dust), the woman (who will suffer in childbirth), and the ground (which will yield its fruit to man only with hard labor).

God’s punishments are examples of “etiology” – which means a study of causes. I call them Mommy, why? stories. They’re found throughout the book of Genesis and other ancient literature. Imagine a Hebrew toddler asking, Mommy, why are there rainbows? The story of Noah and Flood answers the question. Genesis 3 answers similar questions of causation: Mommy, why are snakes so scary and why do the slide on their bellies? Mommy, why does it hurt mommies when babies are born? Mommy, why does daddy have to work so hard to get enough food for us to eat? And perhaps the biggest Mommy, why? question of all: Mommy, why is there sin and evil in the world? Skeptical scholars have used etiology to argue that the Bible is just another ancient collection of myths. But etiology did more than satisfy childish curiosity in ancient Israel; it provided historical explanations for the world as the Hebrews experienced it.

St. Paul points out that Eve was deceived (2 Cor. 11:3). Adam wasn’t. He made a decision to eat without being beguiled. It’s good fodder for misogynists who claim that female character is more defective. Women are more gullible than men. I don’t think that’s what Paul meant. If anything Adam’s character was worse, because unlike Eve he decided to sin without being tempted. In Romans 5:12-21,  Paul places the blame for infecting all of humanity with original sin (a concept not found in the Old Testament) on Adam alone: “Sin came into the world through one man . . . .”

A rabbi friend pointed out something I never noticed before in Genesis 3. God didn’t banish Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, only Adam: “Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:23-24). Apparently Eve chose to go willingly with her husband. She gave up paradise for him. Why? Because she was created to be his helper and partner. Because they were one flesh. Because – as God said – it was not good for man to be alone. Because men never ask for directions and Adam would be perpetually lost without her. Because being alone is worse than suffering together.

Eve gave up eternal life in paradise to face a hostile world and eventual death with her husband – her husband who named her Eve, signifying that she would become the mother of all living. (The name “Eve” in Hebrew sounds like the word for “living.”) She is the mother of all, including the  Savior who would die for the sins of the world, foreshadowed in the prophecy that the “seed of the woman” will bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).

As it turns out the first sinner, Eve, was also the first saint.

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