John Bradley: A Last Word
Dying, and yet we live (2 Corinthians 6:9)
I’ve been at death’s door several times but so far found it not wheelchair accessible, but it looks as if this time I might manage it. Frank Sinatra sang that as he faced ‘life’s final curtain’, at least he could say, ‘I did it my way’ and that has become an alarmingly popular hymn at secular funerals. Since I asked Jesus Christ nearly fifty years ago to be my Lord and master, I hope that, at least at my best moments, ‘I did it his way.’ I would be horrified to think I did it my way. I know that my passing will be excruciating for those who are closest to me but we know that the pain of grieving is part of the loving.
So what now? My little bit of Greek tells me that euthanasia, usually taken to mean either assisted or unassisted suicide, really means ‘a good death’ from the word thanasia (death) and the prefix eu- meaning good, as in eulogy – a good word. So a good death is to slip away peacefully in my sleep at some point in time and then the next thing you know is the alarm clock or some other sound waking you to a new day. Hours have passed but it seems like no time at all.
Resurrection is like that except that the time lapse may be a few days or thousands of years and the waking sound will not be an alarm clock but a trumpet. The Apostle Paul calls it a mystery: ‘We will not all sleep, but we will be all changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.’ (1 Corinthians15:51–2) Until then I hope to rest in peace as my mortal body decays, completing my personal entropy and ‘dying away in time and tone’, which is what I have been doing for the past twenty years.
What next? To speculate in this life about what resurrection life will be like is likely to be as far from the mark as twins in their mother’s womb discussing life after birth! ‘You mean there’s another way of living without the Cord which brings us everything from Mother? How can anything live outside?’ But I hope to meet up with many dear friends and family who have preceded me and meet many others of whom I have only read or heard. Most of all, I shall see my Master. ‘Dear friends we are now God’s children; what we shall be like has not yet been disclosed, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’ (1 John 3:2)
There are many secular sceptics who will insist that when you are dead, you are dead and there is nothing more. I believe in life after death and that belief is fundamental to the person I am. There are different levels of importance in the truth of what a person believes. Some say we only believe what we want to believe and that belief on God is nothing but expressing our desire for a cosmic father figure. I have never been to the USA and so have no personal experience that it really exists. I suppose Boston, New York, Washington and the Atlantic seaboard might exist, but California seems most unlikely. Perhaps something strange happens to people who sail too far west and fall off the edge and think they have been to a real place. Maybe it’s all created on a Hollywood film set, not in California but in Birmingham or near Belfast. But if I had crossed the pond and found it really does exist, it wouldn’t make any difference to who I am.
My belief in the reality of God and that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, opening life in all its fullness to those who trust him, is as integral to who I am as my belief that my wife loves me. To analyse these beliefs objectively would itself be an act of distrust. In that sense they are not beliefs which can be proved or disproved by peer review, but relationships which can only be lived. The only way to show the truth of a relationship is my relating and acting in consistency with the relationship. Analysis merely splits the components from each other and leaves the relationship lying in bits on the bench. God is not open to such analysis because if we could analyse God then we would be greater than God and such an entity would not be God but an idol. But God does invite the exploration of a relationship, saying, ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’ (Psalm 34:8) Some have begun very tentatively with a prayer starting, ‘God, if you are real…’ but that can be the start of the greatest life change of all.
John R Bradley, 22 September 2015
The full text of the Order of Service for the Thanksgiving Service is available to download here: Service of Thanksgiving for the life of John Bradley.