Working in a hospital as a chaplain means that I am often present when a death is about to occur or has occurred. There are areas in the hospital, like the Emergency Room, where nurses will comment upon seeing me and exclaim, “Oh no, what’s happening.”
For me being present when death occurs is not a difficult assignment because it is an opportunity to support the family with spiritual care at what will always be a dark time in their lives.
What strikes my attention more than anything at these ministry moments is the age of the deceased. These encounters with death are not always with the elderly but mostly with people who are younger than I, from mere infants to those in their 50’s.
I suppose that in the process of growing into adulthood we’ve come to expect our 80+ year old relatives to be gambling with time for another day of life, but those who die young can really jar us into asking why?
This isn’t a blog post to answer the question Why?, but one to simply point out that there is a biblical basis for believing that when it’s our time to die, it’s our time to die. It is at least knowing that God knows when our time to die is going to be. One can take comfort in knowing that to what seems to us to be an untimely early death may actually be the perfect timing for the deceased eternal soul.
The old Billy Joel song, Only the Good Die Young, may one day prove to be truer than we’ve realized. While I can’t point you to a verse in the Bible that says the Lord takes some in their youth because it is at that point they’re closet to God or the opposite that others are allowed to age so they have more time to get saved, but I can point you to some verses that say that our time of death is known by God.
There are four verses that I would like to point out on the issue of timing, and I’ll just bullet those here:
- “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” – Hebrews 9:27
- “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” – Job 14:5
- “My times are in thy hand” – Psalm 31:15
- “A time to be born, and a time to die” – Ecclesiastes 3:2
If our time of death is in God’s hand, than we ought to consider that it is a timing that is best for our loved ones, too. I have found that when a patient is dying there is usually only two things that concern them — barring the pain they may be experiencing — that is their afterlife and worry for the loved ones they leave behind.
If we realize that God is in control and it is all His timing, we can take advantage of this last chance to have faith in Jesus Christ and also take comfort for our loved ones whom we are leaving behind.
Every now and then someone says to me, I sure wish the Lord would have revealed my date of death a long time ago because I could have prepared better. The only problem is we are human and it is very likely that nothing would have been made better and most likely life would have been lived in fear of that upcoming date.
Finally on this subject of time of death, I want to share a powerful lesson for those who grieve a sudden death of a loved one, and learned it in the 1990’s while watching TV Talk Show Host Larry King interview his guest Tommy Lasorda, the LA Dodgers Manager.
Tommy’s son had recently died at the age of 34, and Tommy was talking with Larry about how that was weighing on him, and how he finally found a way to cope with his son’s death. Tommy said that somewhere in his grieving the thought occurred to him, “If God would have come to me and said, ‘I will give you a son but you can only have him for 34 years until I take him back, would you still want him?’ to which Tommy said, Absolutely!”
Tommy Lasorda went on to explain how that one thought changed his grieving from a hopelessness focused sorrow to a gratefulness focus that made it more productive for him and honoring of his son’s memory.
I think the solution here is to simply always be ready. Spiritually be ready to face your last breath, make relationships right while you still can, and communicate with you loved ones while you are still able.
So next time you hear the old adage that goes “When it’s your turn to go, it’s your turn to go” (or something to that effect), know that there is a lot of truth to that.