Let There Be A Hand

Posted on August 19, 2015

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I am not scared to write that I am scared of death.

I think about it. It comes up mostly when I cannot sleep and have been awake for too many hours in my dark room, alone, which has been most of my life. In those moments my mind has the opportunity to reflect on the similarity between the darkness that surrounds me and the darkness which will one day come. It rarely seems to let the chance go by.

It comes up these days mostly because I feel surrounded by death’s cruel potentiality. The former president of my ministry organization is fighting a battle against cancer. A friend recently discovered that he has stage 4 cancer and is fighting in the same way, although it does not look good . The wife of an acquaintance recently lost her own battle.

If on most days I can carry on in blissful ignorance of my own mortality, these days I cannot. The reality is clear- if they might die or have died, I will too. And it can happen at any time.

I am scared of that. I am. I am afraid of the thing which will one day take hold of me, as it will everyone at one point or another. What will it be like? Will it be sudden, unexpected, like the electricity suddenly cutting out during a storm? Or will it be slow, me clawing at the foundation of my existence as it vanishes like a curtain closing across an empty stage? What will it feel like? Will I simply blink out? Or will I be forced to watch as the blackness approaches, my mind scrambling from the edge in sheer panic until it can back up no further? What will it feel like when the abyss meets me and swallows me, infinite in both its erasure and indifference?

I know, I know. So melodramatic. Not everyone is this neurotic.  There are those whose courage is so great, whose faith is so unwavering, that they can say with Jim Elliot that “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” And there are those who get that death is a natural part of life, an inescapable door that we all must walk through, and so regard death with a sanguine mixture of resignation and peace.

I am not those people. I have tremendous respect for them, and I wish I was them. But I’m not. I don’t understand.

I fear death will be like I imagine above. That it will be a horrific cognitive sprint away from the horizon of something which can never be outrun.  That when it catches me my final experience will be the terror of feeling an empty, atheist universe blowing out the candle of my consciousness.

I have often wondered about what the apostle Peter felt as he plunged into the waters of the Sea of Galilee, having failed at walking on water. What was it like? Did he think he would drown? Did he try to tread water? As he slid under the waves, could he feel liquid fill his throat and drown his breath? And as this happened, was there a collision of thought- that ‘I am going to die now’, and also a flash in his mind of his master and friend Jesus, at that moment Peter crying out to maybe no one and yet please, please Someone in particular, to come save him?

This- the collision between a horrific reality and a pleading to Somebody- is what I imagine is the thing we call ‘hope’.

Hope. All I have is this thing. That when the time comes there will be a hand there, that it will grip my wrist as it did Peter’s as he fell through the sea foam, and that it will pull me up in the same way it pulled him. This is my hope, and as I type it I can see that if it is my hope for the hour of my death, it is also my hope for the other hours of my life, the ones that all lead to it.  It is my hope for when I am lonely, when I’m scared, when I doubt, when I’ve sinned, and for when I feel lost.

My hope is a hand. All I have is the hand, and it is all I ever will have. I have no other.

I am still scared. That will probably never go away. There will be other nights, other long waits in darkness like the many I have already endured, and thus other battles with what I know for certain will one day come, and what I pray will meet me there.

Until then, let my hope be your hope, for our final moment and for every moment until then- that there will be a hand, pierced yet strong, the hand of a carpenter and a Christ, pulling us to Himself.

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