My body is dying. Nerves from brain to legs are already dead, so I sit in a wheelchair. Other members are in the dying process. Cause? Aging, which leads to dying, which is God’s curse on our sin. Primary Lateral Sclerosis is a specific cause. Not terminal, but incurable and progressive.
A few days ago, that truth turned on like a light in a dark room. For our devotions now, Lois and I are reading Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s book, Mourning into Dancing. “Wangerin is widely recognized as one of the most gifted writers writing today on the issues of faith and spirituality” (Amazon).
Wangerin postulates that we experience many Secondary Deaths before we die absolutely. Retirement, he writes, is one of those Secondary Deaths. I think he’d agree disease or disability are two others.
When I read aloud what I’ll quote below, I struggled to continue. I was weeping. There I was on the page.
I’ve written quite often of my condition. (Really?) Not because I’m self-absorbed (I hope), but because, in this case, so we might better understand and help someone we love caught in this Secondary Death. And so we might be better prepared for our own.
Here’s what I read from Mourning into Dancing . . .
The third time when we are most vulnerable to this Secondary Dying, the sense of futility at the end of things, comes when we enter what society calls “retirement.” (I’ve been in it 2 1/2 years now. Little, if anything, about it is “golden.” Actually, I suspect “retirement” was concocted by an alien government to make us virtually useless and generally impotent.) Worker after worker, however he might have looked forward to the freedom, is astonished by the sorrow that seizes his soul. Sorrow? Why, gloom and a bitterness too, which seem to have no cause.
Grandpa sits in a chair and stairs at the wall. He’s healthy. He’s sharp. He’ s able. He’s free! And yet he is so sad. Worse, when we try to help him he scolds us, as though we did something wrong. But we love him! He’s sad and he’s mad when he should be happy. We do not understand the man.
Well, but his hands are empty. And so is the self. And so is the world, therefore. All at once the man is not doing anything he considers genuinely important.
That which used to authenticate his being, and his being here, has been torn from him. He has been sundered from his reason to be, his worth, his purpose, his name, his repute, his glory. Can we stress enough the separation that is death to him? He is like “Adam,” whose name means “soil”, who was sundered from the soil, the stuff of his work and identity.
Grandpa is not suddenly peculiar. It doesn’t have to be Alzheimer’s Disease. Don’t dismiss him as senile and cantankerous. First seek causes not in his mind but in his spirit: he has died. He is grieving.
Wangerin doesn’t sound very Christian, does he! Doesn’t he have a timely Bible verse to hit Grandpa upside the head with? Like, Paul: ” . . . it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not at all be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain . . . My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:20, 21. 23b). Wangerin will reach the good news of “The Drama of Redemption” in final chapters. For now, he’s explaining why Grandpa is grieving. And maybe help us understand and offer sensitive help to ones grieving over a Secondary Death like retirement. If we or a loved one grieves over retirement (or chronic poor health), the Holy Spirit will enable us to grieve not as those who have no hope. ” . . . we do not want you to . . . grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
What “hope”? Paul writes to Titus: He refers to this time “while we wait for the blessed hope– the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ . . . ” (Titus 2:13). He , ” . . . by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Using the broken-body-parts metaphor, at his coming Jesus will fix the brokenness and put the now-working parts back together. But this will be no repair job. No Gorilla Glue or Duct Tape. This will be transformation. No, it will be glorification of dying bodies into ones that will never die, age, sneeze, stumble, or have to be laid in the ground or cremated to dust.
This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong. When buried, it is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body. There is, of course, a physical body, so there has to be a spiritual body. For the scripture says, “The first man, Adam, was created a living being”; but the last Adam is the life-giving Spirit. It is not the spiritual that comes first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first Adam, made of earth, came from the earth; the second Adam came from heaven. Those who belong to the earth are like the one who was made of earth; those who are of heaven are like the one who came from heaven. Just as we wear the likeness of the man made of earth, so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven.
What I mean, friends, is that what is made of flesh and blood cannot share in God’s Kingdom, and what is mortal cannot possess immortality. Listen to this secret truth: we shall not all die, but when the last trumpet sounds, we shall all be changed in an instant, as quickly as the blinking of an eye. For when the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed. For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die. So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” “Where, Death, is your victory? Where, Death, is your power to hurt?” Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:42-57, GNT)
I’m grateful for Secondary Death insight, though I don’t regard it with delight to say the least. Grumbling escapes my mouth; discouragement darkens my heart. But by God’s mercy in his Son, I have a hope, a future, when every Secondary Death, and even Absolute Death, will die—and I will live! (Anybody interested in a used wheelchair? Available soon.)