Upon receiving a surprise request from his previously unknown (to me) daughter Judy, I visited Alistair in the nursing home where he had apparently resided for some months. He was 94 years of age.
For many years Alistair and his wife and my wife and I had attended the same small local dance studio where, with a handful of others we had had many laughs and enjoyed good camaraderie as we learnt and repeatedly practiced the art of dance, which included great physical exercise.
Alistair and I go back a long way but during the later years there had been little contact between us and we had slowly, imperceptibly drifted apart, that being the nature of drifting.
When I entered the room, his daughter was already there and I found a very frail old man lying on his side in the foetal position with his back to the door. Judy left us. As is common with someone close to the end it was difficult to wake him.
For some time, I just sat beside him softly calling his name. Eventually Alistair did awaken long enough to recognise me and took my hand as if to shake hands. Then he placed his other hand lightly on my arm.
He lay there quietly breathing steadily and I gathered that holding my hand and touching my arm had given him some friendly comfort. A voice from the past had come to be with him in what Judy thought was likely to be his final hours.
Before we met
Beforehand outside his room Judy had informed me that long ago Alistair had expressed his faith in God but for many years past had not ‘practiced his religion’. She was lovingly concerned that as her dad’s time to leave drew near and thus the commencement of his journey of no return quickly approached, she thought he needed reassurance that heaven and hell were real.
She wanted reassurance that he was going to walk through the right door and safely enter paradise to be with Jesus ‘till the end of time. She wanted him to hear Jesus say: well done good and faithful servant. Come into My kingdom.
What God says
Jesus says (still today): knock and the door will be opened to you…to the one who knocks the door will be opened. (Matthew chapter 7 verses 7/8). Who is He talking about: what door? Jesus is referring to Himself. He is the gate and His sheep (people who have turned from the world to Him) enter the rest of their lives through Him.
How often in the history of the world has it happened that someone who, from a time long past had expressed a saving faith yet had lapsed therefrom over an equally long period of time and now faced a frighteningly daunting prospect?
Notwithstanding that over the years (including recently) Judy and her father had engaged in lengthy spirited discussion, she still wasn’t sure he was safe. Similarly, over the years Alistair and I had enjoyed robust spiritual debate.
In spite of the story of the rich man and Lazarus at his gate I’m still not sure that the ‘fires of hell’ are the lot of those who turn their back on God.
We are warned that those whose minds are hostile to Him (Romans chapter 8 verse 7) will be punished with: everlasting destruction and [all alone will be] shut out from the presence of the LORD forever. (2 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 9).
To me this latter verse sits more comfortably with the statement that for those who choose to ignore Him: blackest darkness has been reserved forever. (Jude verse 13). There will be no party with fellow unbelieving friends.
An earlier occasion
During the years leading up to my election to local government over twenty years ago, I had written many letters to the editor of the local paper. At a time of acute devastation experienced by a member of the community and when the community itself was a bit testy and agitated I wrote that:
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright. (Psalm 112 verse 4). Alistair later told me how good he thought it was that in that way a leader in the community had ‘stood up’ and sent a comforting message from God’s authoritative word.
His present situation didn’t quite seem to be a ‘deathbed confession’ but it did appear to be somewhat akin to it, and I felt enormously honoured and privileged to (firstly) be called upon by way of a surprise email and (secondly) to be there with this gracious old gentleman and his caring daughter during his last days. As history unfolded it wasn’t long before Jan and I attended his funeral.
Judy re-entered the room and as we sat beside the bed talking freely, we both realised from the occasional hand acknowledgement of the truth of something said or a brief awakening that Alistair was listening and agreeing. As he lay there peacefully it was evident he was following the conversation.
To where did this lead?
Jude wrote: snatch others from the fire and save them. (Jude verse 23) (an expression of speech, not literal?). Earlier there is this great statement of comfort and encouragement: Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our LORD Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Verse 21).
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. (Psalm 116 verse 15).
Now if we are God’s children then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. (Romans chapter 8 verse 17).
So why wouldn’t we want that?
Gavin Lawrie is a retired Barrister and Solicitor from Tweed Heads NSW Australia and author of the book: 'THE EVIDENCE OF EVOLUTION: Uncovering The Faulty Science Of Dawkins' Attack On Creationism'. He is married to Jan with two adult children and they are grandparents.
Gavin Lawrie's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/gavin-lawrie.html