Some time ago, I read a poignant tale by American fiction writer, Madeline Le’Engle (d. 2007). The story was about her grandfather. He’d always been a strong, vibrant, robust man – until the dementia demon sank its talons into his memory and slowly reduced the nearly 100-year-old to a shadow of what he once was. As her grandfather lay dying, he gripped her mother’s hand and asked, almost as a child might ask, “Who will go with me when I die?”
Those words haunt me whenever I think of them. There he was, a once powerful, ‘in-charge’ guy who had become like a small, frightened child. I know nothing of his position with Christ. I do not know if he ever humbled himself before the cross of Jesus. But if he had, Oh! What comfort someone could have given the frightened child inside the man.
Of course, men and women caught in the grip of dementia are not the only ones who lie on deathbeds, fearful that no one will go with them when they die. I know many healthy people who fear such a thing. And they have good reason to fear because they live lives without so much as a passing thought about eternity – nor do they care a smidgen that obedient faith in Jesus Christ is God's absolute and unyielding requirement for eternal life.
But, and perhaps even more troubling to me, are those I know who, although they live in faithful obedience to Christ, they STILL fear the grave.
Why is that, when God has so clearly promised to accompany them step by step through the valley of the shadow of death? Why do they fear when God has repeatedly told them such things as: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me HAS eternal life. He does not come into judgment but HAS PASSED from death to life.” (1 John 5:24, emphasis mine). Or this promise through St John the Apostle: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, THAT YOU MAY KNOW that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13, emphasis mine)
I can only surmise that they fear because they’ve been incorrectly taught according to the dogmas of their church or the false ideas of their family traditions that no one can be sure of their eternal destiny until they die. They fear because they trust the very fallible and demonstrably erroneous doctrines of men instead of the perfectly infallible doctrines of Scripture.
Whatever our age or health, Madeline Le’Engle’s grandfather’s plaintive cry should haunt all of us: “Who will go with me when I die?”
And so, the question for you: Jesus Christ alone holds the key to eternal life. No other Name has been given by God to humanity through which and whom we must be saved. No one else in all creation can go with you to the Father when you die. And so, the question: Have you offered God your faithful obedience through Christ? Have you followed the Lord Jesus in baptism? Do you routinely confess to Him your daily sins and turn from them each time you fail?
If you answered yes, then the haunting words of Madeline’s grandfather need never, ever be yours. If you answered yes, then you have absolutely no reason to doubt that the Good Shepherd will go with you when you die.
And for that immutable promise of God Himself, oh! We give great thanks.