Thoughts on death

This post is going to be weird, and probably uncomfortable to read. I know it’s uncomfortable to write,  but I’m doing it anyway, because I need to get it out of my head.

Last night, Michael Spencer died.

Some of you may know him personally on some level. Some of you may know him as the Internet Monk, or the founder of Boar’s Head Tavern, or just an author of some really good posts about God and Christianity. Some of you may not know of him at all. But he means a lot to a lot of people – and to some degree, you can even measure his influence objectively, since his blog is one of the oldest and most influential on the internet.

I’ve only come to know much about him in the last couple of years, mainly through a friend of mine mentioning his work incessantly (something for which I am now truly grateful!) – and while he comes from a very different place than I do spiritually and theologically, and while he and I have very little in common I feel great respect for him. His posts are well thought out and detailed, well written and insightful. He’s given me a new way to see a lot of things, and for that I am thankful.

He also got the group together at the Boar’s Head Tavern, a group of people that is very diverse and has discussed every topic under the song in a public forum that I’ve gleaned a lot from. His sickness and passing was noted there in detail and with a wide variety of reactions and comments from the patrons of the bar – all different, but all strong reactions. Death causes strong reactions. The death of a loved one, be they family, friend, or whatever this e-relationship makes us causes reactions only that much stronger. It’s visceral and it’s painful. For Christians, there may be some hope, or even some joy mixed with the pain. There is also anger, and bitterness, and depression.

Many people lost a friend last night. I lost a man I respect. What I feel is nothing next to his family. It’s not even anything next to his friends, or many of the patrons at the BHT. But I feel grief. I feel confusion. I wonder why God chose now, this time when he was doing so much and doing so well to take him home – and to allow it to happen in such a cruel and miserable manner. I remember the story of Job, whose only crime was faithfulness, having his family slaughtered and his possessions destroyed, all just because Satan was mad that someone would be so faithful. He didn’t deserve it, and neither did his slaughtered family. As kids we’re all taught that Job turned out okay, because he got a new farm and a new herd and new employees  and had more children – but as a friend wrote recently on his Facebook, Job’s family was still dead.

Regardless of what was given to Job at the end, having to bury 10 children and the pain that comes with that is not instantly replaced by the birth of 10 more. There are signs in neighborhoods that read, “Slow down, we love our kids!” not “Floor it! We’ll make more!” No parent would ever take the death of their kids even if they knew God would give them more to replace them. What he gained doesn’t change the fact that he had to bury hundreds of employees and friends that were taken from him.

Suffering sucks. Pain sucks. Michael Spencer was subjected to a long, lingering, ravenous disease that destroyed his body and left him a shell of who he once was – I remember him writing a few sentences about how he was doing, which closed with an example of how poorly he was: it had taken him 45 minutes for this prolific writer to write a couple of simple paragraphs. I hate cancer. I watched my grandfather die of cancer, and it’s something that really shook me up then and still gives me nightmares now. It’s an ugly, disgusting way to die. There’s no upside to it. And he had to live through that to a point where he knew there was zero chance for survival. He found out about it right after Christmas, battled the disease for four months, and then he died.

But he looked forward to it. Not to the pain, not to the suffering he would experience and the hurt his loved ones would feel. He didn’t wish for that. He looked forward to seeing his Lord, because his faith is so firm, his trust so complete, that death didn’t shake him. He accepted what he was given with determination and dedication. He penned these words on his blog, the last post of his, which I’ll copy here:

The ultimate apologetic is to a dying man.

That is what all those “Where is God?” statements in the Psalms are all about. They are, at least partially, invitations to Christians to speak up for the dying.

All the affirmations to God as creator and designer are fine, but it is as the God of the dying that the Christian has a testimony to give that absolutely no one else can give.

We need to remember that each day dying people are waiting for the word of death and RESURRECTION.

The are a lot of different kinds of Good News, but there is little good news in “My argument scored more points than you argument.” But the news that “Christ is risen!” really is Good News for one kind of person: The person who is dying.

If Christianity is not a dying word to dying men, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.

What is your apologetic? Make it the full and complete announcement of the Life Giving news about Jesus.

He didn’t post about how sad he was or how angry he was. He didn’t write about how it wasn’t fair or that his depression was getting the best of him. He wrote about the good news. He encouraged us to be better people and better examples to others, better followers of Christ.

I am not that faithful. I am not that devoted. I am not that strong.

I wish I could be.

That is his testimony.

Those people at the BHT, who would never have met each other without him, those hundreds of thousands of people who read his writing and were touched in some way, the friends whom he ministered to and counseled, the wife and children he left behind?

Those are his legacy. And what a legacy it is! How many of us can ever hope to leave that kind of impact on this world, on that many lives?

Rest easy, Michael. You’re home now. We miss you, but we know we’ll see you again one day.

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