“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:55 – 58
Congregational care is a vital aspect in any church ministry, especially for our church where we have a congregation size of about seven hundred members. Week in week out, the Pastoral Team will receive news of members who are sick or hospitalised. As the Pastoral Staff who is overseeing congregational care, it is a privilege for me to visit and pray for such members. Scheduling visitations to visit the sick and the homebound offers the opportunity to show care and concern for our members. It is also a time of getting to know members personally and minister to their needs.
However, there were occasions when the patient’s condition deteriorated after a pastoral visit. I recalled my first experience visiting a member who was hospitalised. At that time, I had just graduated from seminary and started pastoral ministry in church. Being new and inexperienced, I did not realize and anticipate what was to come. The member whom I was visiting had been suffering from his sickness for quite an extensive period of time and was not getting any better. In my naivety, I prayed for him that he would get well soon and left after that. The next day, I received a call that he had passed on. I was dumbfounded. This experience where a person passed on after I prayed happened to me on my second and third occasions with another two members. By then, I was actually quite fearful of visitations and praying for people, especially those who are sick. I feared that they would pass on instead of getting healed.
Do you have such an experience? Our Lord Jesus’ incarnation is the greatest example where He came to visit us (John 1:14). During His ministry on earth, He often visited the sick and the homebound. Scripture also recorded that He healed numerous people who were sick and even raised the dead. As such, if we were to take Scripture literally, we might have a skewed understanding that when we pray for the sick, they will certainly be healed. In fact, this led me to ponder on the following questions: “What is our understanding of healing?” “Should death be seen as a form of healing?”
As a counsellor, it is not wrong to consider death as a form of healing. The person who has been struggling with his or her condition for so many years is finally set free from his or her physical struggles, pain and suffering. It is a great relief for the sufferer! He or she is now with our Lord Jesus in a better place. However, I would like us to consider what N.T. Wright wrote. N.T. Wright, a leading New Testament scholar and retired Anglican bishop offered some insights as to how we should view death and healing in his book, “Surprised by Hope”. It is not surprising that Christians believe that death is not a bad thing since we believe that we will go to heaven when we die. However, in the Bible, death is always seen as an enemy. Wright argued that the ultimate destiny of God’s people is not to go off to heaven as disembodied souls forever. Instead, God is in the process of restoring all creation. In Romans 8, Ephesians 1:10 and Revelation 21 & 22, the Bible mentioned that there will be an event in the future where Jesus will come back again and when God will finally restore all things. God’s plan is not to destroy but to make all things in heaven and earth new and right. This means that our bodies are also part of God’s plan in His restoration work.
The coming Resurrection – an event where God will raise up all the dead for judgment – is the final defeat of death where death is overcome by God. Those who were once dead will be raised up, signifying the end of death. This is the time where people neither suffer nor live in pain anymore. Everyone will be whole and healed completely. There will be no more tears and sorrows! As such, death is not a form of healing! Healing is overcoming death!
Looking at God’s plan where He ultimately plans to restore everything on earth and also in heaven, what should our response be? Death should not be seen as an escape or a good thing that sets us free from our earthly existence. In other words, death should not be seen as a form of healing! Instead, we should continue to look forward to the day of Resurrection where healing will overcome death! This would mean that as we minister to our members who are facing pain, suffering and death and even as we comfort the bereaved families, let us point them to the future hope that we have in God’s restorative plan and purpose.