Monday, February 9, 2015

Question on Counseling Relatives of Dying Patients *

Dr. Marati asks a big life question that probably most doctors have to deal with:

Q: I am a doctor. I sometimes am asked to counsel the relatives of my patients who are dying. What should I tell them? How should I counsel them?

A: Thanks, Dr. Marati for your question. I can understand your predicament. It is something that really touches the heart and is at the core of all human existence—the question of how one faces death, and how one’s family and friends face an impending death of a loved one. The good news is that there is a way to face death. Let me briefly explain what the Christian, Biblical view on this is. But before I give it to you, I must first fine tune your intended audience, with an explanation.
I honestly think that before they the relatives of the dying are counselled, the dying should be counselled first. I am not saying that the relatives who will remain after don’t need hope. Of course they do. But what hope can you give the living relatives if the dying person does not have hope upon his deathbed, that is, if he dies in hopelessness? They need hope after he is gone, and he needs hope before he goes. If he dies with hope, then they can live with hope after he dies. So it is imperative to give the dying person hope upon his deathbed. That raises the question, “Whence comes hope to a dying man?” To answer this, please allow me to tell you, briefly, the account of Christ on the cross. It can be found in the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 23, if you wish to verify.

While the Lord Jesus was hanging there on the cross, dying to pay for the sins of those who would believe on Him, there hung beside him a criminal. In fact, there were two. One of them mocked Christ’s claims to be the Son of God and Son of Man. The other criminal simply said to him, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Here is a dying man, asking another dying man, to remember him when—not if—He comes into His kingdom.” In other words, the dying criminal puts his faith in the Man Jesus who is hanging beside him, believing Him to be Who He claims to be—The Son of God. His faith in the truth of who Christ is, gives this man hope, which spurs him on to say to Christ what he said. Then hear Christ’s response to this man’s request: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Christ was dying in the body, but not dying for good. He would be temporarily leaving His body, going to Paradise (the place where the spirits of the righteous dead are received), and then coming back to rise again. As He went to Paradise, guess who would be accompanying Him?­—You guessed it right, this dying thief. Let me tell you, Dr. Marati, that the family members of this dying criminal could have more hope for this man in death, than they could have for him while he lived. While he lived he was a brigand, a murderer, extortionist, enemy of the state, and whatever else you would like to think. He had no hope in life neither was he giving any hope to his family members by the way he lived. And when he was sentenced to death, he doubtless left them with no hope, left them to think that this was his end. But death was not the end for this dying thief. He was dying a thief, but the moment Jesus told him he would be with Him in Paradise, he had the assurance that he would wake up a saint, one who would be alive forever. What a state to leave your family in when you are dying: giving them hope that death is not the end, but that you will live again. Not merely this, but giving them the hope that they too can live beyond the grave and be in Paradise, if they place their faith in the truth of who Jesus is. I’ll say two things to sum this all up, Dr. Marati.

First, this man could die in hope because he knew Jesus was going to take him to Paradise. And if Jesus had control over the destiny of this man and of Himself after death, it meant Jesus had control over death itself. And control it He did, for after 3 days this same Jesus who took the dying criminal with Him to Paradise, rose from the dead, validating with great power all the claims He had made during His life time. If he had not risen from the dead, as C.S. Lewis said, He would have been a liar, or a lunatic; but since he rose from the dead, He is neither liar nor lunatic, but He is Lord. He is Lord of life. He is Lord over death. He gives hope to the dying person, and to the relatives of the one who is soon going to die. He assures both the dying and his family that they can all be with Him, Jesus, in heaven one day. As a doctor, there is no better counsel to give the relatives of a dying patient than this, that there is hope beyond the grave, and that that hope is found in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. You ask me why I begin with the qualification “as a doctor?”

That leads me to my second point of summing up my answer to you. The person who wrote this account of the thief who died beside Jesus, was a person who was deeply acquainted with the frailty and brevity of human life. He was a person who had a desire for the sick and diseased and dying to be healed and restored. He was a person who knew that death would inevitably come to everyone, and when it came, he could do nothing in his power to stop it. He was a doctor. His name was Doctor Luke. It is Dr. Luke who wrote this account. It is this account of Dr. Luke, that I present to you, Dr. Marati, as advice on how to counsel the relatives of your dying patients. When all else failed, when he knew that death was inevitable, Dr. Luke points us to Life in the face of death. Dr. Luke points us to the one, the only one, who is able to make the absolute promise of eternal life to a dying man. And not only does He, Jesus, have the power to make the promise, but the power to come through on it as well.

Dr. Marati, in ending, let me say that it is not only the dying patient and his relatives he will leave behind who need hope, but the carrier of this message of hope will have to have experienced it before he explains it—you. You need this hope before you can counsel them. Do you have the assurance of what will happen and where you will go when death comes to you? Can you counsel your own family and friends before you leave them? Put yourself on the deathbed of your patients for a brief moment, and it may do you an eternity of good. When you are upon your deathbed, can you assure family and friends that this will not be the end? I invite you to be able to do that. You can place your trust in the Christ who, in the face of death was able to say with finality, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” He will give you cleansing from all your sin accrued in the past, the beginning of a new and eternal life, and hope in life and death. Call out to Him today in prayer, asking Him to save you and grant you life. What a great thing it would be for you have this hope yourself, give this to dying patients, and in turn to their family members. You will have experienced and given the greatest gift possible to your patients and family and friends, a gift greater than all of Medicine can give—the knowledge of how to have everlasting life in Jesus Christ.

Kenny Damara

* See link for info on background of this Q&A:

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