My father called and left a message early in the morning to inform me that he “passed on.” I hate that terminology. It feels like a vacuous attempt to put a pretty spin on death, as if it were a bad cold or an inconvenience. I would rather sink my teeth into the fatality of the moment. Dead is just dead…nothing light or fluffy about it.
Sometimes death is accompanied by sweet relief, if pain or suffering is involved. But not this time. It was sudden. A post-surgical infection turned into a fiasco and suddenly poof, death is knocking at the door. Maybe it would be easier if my uncle was close to the Lord, or if I felt confidant in his eternal salvation. But that's just the thing…I don't, and it's eating me up inside.
My uncle was an avowed atheist, determined to live a life apart from God. If he passed on, as my dad suggested, then I can't fathom where he went, nor do I really want to consider the implications. The big “H” word seems so extreme. And ultimately, so final.
My husband reminded me that God is not limited by our boundaries, that even in a comatose state, my uncle might choose, like the criminal on the cross next to Christ, to turn in a different direction.
This whole idea of someone deliberately choosing an eternal life apart from God has my insides in a tangled turmoil. Free choice notwithstanding, I wish things were different. I can understand when people run from God, keep a distance and live far from him. In this paradigm, there is an acknowledgement of God's presence coexisting with a willful defiance. But the atheist denies God altogether. It is a much bigger animal than the proverbial prodigal child running from his father.
My uncle was a brilliant man. A professor of anthropology at an esteemed college, an author, a thinker and a contributor to the world of academia. Our conversations were thrilling, and even as a child, I remember probing his mind and uncovering a virtual cornucopia of modern discourse. During my formative years and later as a college student, he challenged me to dive into the greats — Foucault, Nietzsche, Heidegger — to push my brain to maximus exhaustiveness. To ponder, to ruminate, to brood over thoughts and relentlessly search for truth.
But my post-modern studies led me down a different path than the road he traveled. In the absence of absolute truth, in an exhaustive vacuum of subjectivity, my heart longed for something more meaningful than a personal experience to hold onto. As my studies led me further and further away from God, my heart was conversely drawn to Him.
Something in my spirit cried out for more and strangely enough it was my own personal experience with Christ that filled the void. Ironically, “witnessing in a post-modern world” has become material for seminary training, when in all reality, Christ's light only shines brighter in the hopelessness that shrouds this train of thought.
I loved my uncle. I will miss him at Thanksgiving. I will miss his liberal extremism. His loud laugh. His passion for life. His crazy stories about aliens. And on some level, I can thank him for leading me to Christ in a weird roundabout way.
My eyes leak when I think about him.
The sting of death is this…watching someone you love die apart from Christ.