“The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
She had been a member of the Free Presbyterian Church all her life. Faithfully and diligently she had read the Scriptures and memorized multiple sections of the Word throughout her life. Now, during the autumn of her life, she started to lose control of her faculties little by little. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, that degenerative disease which leaves a human being ultimately as a mere shell, at a vegetative level.
The minister of her congregation visited her faithfully in the care facility where she now resided for a number of years, recounts Rev. Alan Cairns to his audience. The time came that the minister could not have a conversation with her anymore. He would greet her, mention his name, and ask after her well-being, but would not even receive a signal that she was aware of his presence. She was essentially cut off from all human communication and relationship. Effectively, she had already left this world behind.
“But,” recalls Rev. Cairns, “then the moment came, after he had chatted in monologue for a while, that the minister took out his Bible and started to read from the Scriptures. To his amazement he heard a soft, quavering voice speaking the same Scriptures which he was reading. Whereas no communication at all was possible anymore, whereas she needed full-fledged help from bed to toilet and to mealtimes, when it came to God’s Word, she actually came alive and spoke!” All the memory work she had imbibed all through her life was still there, even with everything else gone!
When her husband passed away after many years of blessed marriage, something seemed to break in her. She seemed to take her leave of this world gradually. Much of her life had revolved around the Reformed Baptist Church, really her most meaningful family, and she was intensely familiar with all the songs of the church hymnal. Her husband used to be a member of the town’s men’s choir and she loved to hear him sing about the great deeds, love, and grace of God. It was not long into her widowhood that she was diagnosed with dementia. Those around her saw a woman who was always well coiffed, neatly – even elegantly – dressed, become slovenly and unaware of her appearance. Physically she deteriorated to the point that it was noted how little human dignity was left; she soiled herself, ate spasmodically and without even having mastery of the most rudimentary of table manners. Humanly speaking, she was a sad and painful sight to behold, especially for those who had known her so very differently.
Yet, most amazingly, whereas she was back at the mental level of a toddler, there was one thing in which she was still highly responsive. When a little choir from her church came to the home for the elderly to sing songs, her eyes would light up, she would smile, she would hum along. Conversations were non-events, consisting of some mumblings at times, or repeating the odd word. But when one of her family members would sing a Scriptural song she would become animated and a smile would light her face!
For the Christian who leads a life in close fellowship with God, it appears that when the earthly dwelling is being stripped away, when bodily functions cease, the ultimate dignity is still preserved in a soul that is attuned to God the Word and the Word of God! Yes, it is true that the human measure of dignity erodes and the human observer sees the wreckage that is inherited from the fall into sin. God and the discerning Christian eye see beyond the perishable and looks in amazement and wonder at the imperishable that remains in God’s children even to the point when they cross Jordan.
Stripped of what Perishes
Edersheim (in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 129-133), talking about the circumstances of the birth of Jesus, tells us the following:
If we think of Jesus as the Messiah from heaven, the surroundings of outward poverty, so far from detracting, seem most congruous to His Divine character. Earthly splendour would here seem like tawdry tinsel, and the utmost simplicity like the clothing of the lilies which far surpassed all the glory of Solomon’s court…
Two impressions are left on the mind: that of utmost earthly humility, in the surrounding circumstances, and that of inward fitness, in the contrast suggested by them… That on such slender thread, as the feeble throb of Infant-life, the salvation of the world should hang – and no special watch over its safety, no better shelter provided than a stable, no other cradle than a manger! And still it is ever so. On what slender thread has the continued life of the Church often seemed to hang; on what feeble throbbing that of every child of God – with no visible outward means to ward off danger, no home of comfort, no rest of ease. But, ‘Lo, children are Jehovah’s heritage!’
One great mark of the Lord’s coming to earth and walk on earth was His lack of attachment to the things that perish. Stripped of all earthly tinsel, even in the circumstances of His birth – in Edersheim’s words – His pure relationship to God is what remains. This is also the wonderful picture seen in God’s children when they, in God’s providence, are gradually stripped of all that perishes, while jealously holding on to that mysterious state in which ‘the Word of God shall stand forever.’
“In the last analysis it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions life puts to us.” –Dag Hammarskjold (1905-1961)
Dr Herm Zandman