The End of the Beginning
01 February 2006

When I found a year ago that I had a lymphoma, which if untreated was fatal, I was forced to have a big rethink.

by Hugh Nowell
DEATH IS A divine democratic experience. We all have our turn. There are no exceptions.

This is good and bad. Up until last year, if I thought about it at all, I would consider it a bad thing.

Although I am a full-blooded paid-up Christian, I have reserved judgement on a lot of promises in the Bible. It would be nice to think that I will see parents, family and friends again later - although there are a number of acquaintances who might cause me problems. But I've felt it a bit presumptuous to assume I would get a good heavenly reward.

I know Christ talked about the 'mansions' he had gone ahead to prepare for us - although I wasn't sure I needed a mansion. But I am wonderfully attached to the world I live in at the moment and really don't want to make the change.

When I found a year ago that I had a lymphoma, which if untreated was fatal, I was forced to have a big rethink.

After the first shock, I began to reflect on the wonders of creation. I recalled how often I stand amazed at the unparalleled ingenuity and imaginative beauty of flowers-morning glory, fuchsias, delphiniums, gentians; or the ten or more bird varieties that visit our town garden, from green woodpeckers to wrens; the exquisite colourings of the red admiral and peacock butterflies. All these must be the work of a Creator who will have provided splendours beyond our imagination in heaven. These are just the hors d'oeuvres of all that he has in store.

So, what's the problem? Death is the end of the beginning not the end of life. And, as a Christian, I regret that I had not taken any of these promises to heart. In my mind they were always for another day. My maths teacher used to say to us at school about the famed maths symbol, Pi, 'it must become like an old friend'. Death can also become a friend; not a refuge from realities on earth, but a fulfilment of our life's efforts. The separation felt by loved-ones left behind is possibly the biggest hurdle. If it transpires that one has the time before going to prepare the way with one's dearest, that is indeed a gift. Even in separation we are promised a balm and a purpose in the midst of grief.

Death, like birth, is a divinely-conceived levelling experience. Everyone has the chance to enter into the splendour of God's glory. For most it is a big shake-up even to contemplate it. It is for me. And I'm only slowly coming to terms with it.

I'm a bit ambivalent about the heaven and hell part of the after-life. I'm inclined to agree with CS Lewis, who says we create our own hell and that can start on earth. Hell could well be the realisation of what we have done to others, or have failed to do.

However that may be, Christ's assurances about the life to come are recorded for all his followers to see. The courage to be faith-filled is our part for now.

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