Q. My friend was just diagnosed with terminal cancer. I don't know what to say to him. How can we get a sense of perspective on the subject of dying with so little time left? He feels left out by life and that his family will forget him. Is there anything I can say to make him feel better?
I know what you mean. I lost a close cousin to cancer in 2005. He was handsome, strong, in his early fifties, and had just finished his degree in bio chemistry. He had pulled his life together after living a life of gangs and drugs. I didn't know what to say to him or to his family either. It seemed he had a good future before him. But, then it was gone in less than six months.
No One Talks About Death Or Heaven
In talking to friends who have suffered with cancer, they all tell me that no one wants to talk about death with them. No one talks about heaven or hell, either.
On the other hand, we've insensitively brought up the idea of heaven to terminal patients and caused them to think, "I'm not dead yet." So it's a fine line knowing what to say or when to say it.
Absent from the Body - Present with the Lord
Still, it's a shame we don't talk about death and heaven more freely because Scripture tells us that at the moment of death a believer is present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8). The Apostle Paul said,
"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better…" (Phil. 1:21-24).
Paul had a different perspective about death than we do.
The Truth is Everyone is Terminal
Another point to think about is that we are all terminal and have a 100% probability of death. That is a fact. The question is just, "when?"
The Days Ordained for Me
It is reassuring to remember that God determines when we die - not doctors or nurses or theologians or friends. Psalm 139:16 says,
"All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
All Mankind May Have About 50 Years Left!
Here is an interesting twist on the fact that all of us are terminal. Many people dignosed with a terminal illness feel they will be left out of seeing their kids and grandkids grow up, get good jobs, and marry.
But, consider this: Futurists, physicists, and prophecy scholars now tell us that the probabilities are that mankind has about 50 years left on planet earth. None of us may have the opportunity to watch our families grow up and prosper. Listen to what Christian futurist Mark Hatch says in his new book, The End:
"I happened to be at a conference in Lake Tahoe where scientists and secular philosophers - Dr. Ray Kurzweil, 'Doc' Searle and Bill Joy - had their now- famous conversation that led to Bill Joy's seminal article in Wired magazine (April 2000) titled "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us." Joy's article is considered the catalyst for others' thinking about the topic coming out of the closet.
That article and the ensuing debate have led to one of the most striking recent developments: the increasing number of secular scientists concerned about realistic end-of-the-world scenarios - so-called "existential risks." Specifically, they are deeply concerned about mankind's relatively newfound and expanding capability for global self-annihilation. Furthermore, they have begun to develop a heightened awareness of Earth's violent history and the implications that history shows for humankind's longevity."
Advancements May Deny Future Beyond 2050
"Many have concluded that because of the combination of rapid advancements in science and the new ways that mankind has developed to destroy itself, it has become impossible to envision the future beyond the year 2050 (some are saying as early as 2040)."
(Hatch 2006, 8-9).
Mark Hatch, Frank Tipler Ph.D., Dr. Nick Bostrom, and others believe that a "post-Homo sapiens scenario called 'transhumanism'" is going to cause extreme existential risks. Hatch notes that, "This is scientific code for 'the end of the world.'" (p. 8).
Point of Singularity
This is also referred to as the "point of singularity" for the universe. In other words, none of us will necessarily see our children and grandchildren grow up, get good jobs and marry. Rather, we may be facing extinction sooner than we realize!
Those of us dying from cancer and those of us left here on earth do not have much longer. My terminally ill friend may die in four months. Or I and the world's citizens may die in fifty years. Yet, neither have much of a future - unless, of course, he or she has a believing faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. That is our only hope of survival in the long run.
According to Hatch, recent books that deal with the scary development of "singularity" include:
Collapse, by Jared Diamond
The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil
Catastrophe, by Richard A. Posner
Spike, by Damien Broderick
Our Final Hour, by Sir Martin J. Rees
I also recommend The Physics of Christianity by Frank J. Tipler.
Questionable Future - Where?
The point is that should a secularist (or an unbeliever) receive a terminal cancer diagnosis, it doesn't appear that our world and its current inhabitants have much of a future, either - at least, not for unbelievers.
Theirs is a faith in extinction from death, but the Christian believes in life - immortality based on faith in Jesus Christ alone. Yeshua is the only one who holds the answers to mankind's questionable future or possibility of extinction. He is the only one whose grave is empty. He is the only one with the power to "clone" you back to life (in a sense), or to "tweak" your DNA so that you possess eternal life.
The Rabbis say that this life is a hallway where we prepare ourselves for the world to come. The world to come is like the banquet room, and the hallway is where we dress and clean-up and learn how to act before we join the ball.
Physicists tells us that we live in a multiverse - layers upon layers of parallel universes and other worlds. In other words, Jesus' words, "My kingdom is not of this world," may mean that there is far more to this reality we call "life on planet earth" than we can imagine.
A Matter of Software
Dr. Chuck Missler points out that computers can provide us with insight into the matter of life after death. He says,
"If you knew everything there is to know about every component, every circuit, every microchip, every item of hardware technology inside a modern personal computer, could you tell me anything about its behavior?"
"No. And why not? Because it is a matter of 'Software,' not hardware. The hardware is simply an appropriate residence for the software.
…Software has no mass. (Its embodiment may have weight, but the software doesn't. It is simply codes, information).
…If you and I were meeting face-to-face, I still would not be able to see the real 'you.' I would only see the temporary residence you are occupying. The real you, your personality - call it soul, spirit, whatever - is not visible. It is software, not hardware.
…That which has no mass has no 'time.' You are eternal. That is what the bible has declared all along. And that, apparently, is the conclusion derivable from modern physics. You are eternal (whether you like it or not)."
(Missler 1999, pgs. 368-369).
To learn more about death we need to study our Bibles and read the wisdom gleaned by fellow saints about death and dying. Two books we recommend for this purpose are:
1. Bill Bright, The Journey Home (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003).
2. Billy Graham, Facing Death and the Life After (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987).
For many of the above reasons, we know we are all terminal and are housed in temporary facilities - our bodies and brains. In addition, Christians are due for an "upgrade" in the software of their minds and hardware of their bodies. We look forward to powerful new minds and bodies.
Knowing that we will get new bodies and minds, it would also behoove us to study "maps" and "travel guides" about our coming new location in Heaven - a new city, planet, and universe!
This is part of that "multiverse" physicists allude to. Our maps and travel guides are called the "Bible." Be sure to refer to the Bible's book of Revelation, chapters 21 and 22 for specifics about that other world Jesus told us about.
The Coming New Jerusalem
Briefly, we know we will be moving to New Jerusalem on a new earth. This new city is more than half the size of the United States - 1500 miles wide, long, and high.
It is a perfect cube and contains 2.25 million square miles. That is big enough to accommodate one hundred thousand billion people! (Rev. 21:16).
Astrophysicist Hugh Ross says,
"If its population exceeds ten billion, the New Jerusalem alone would give each of us about forty billion cubic feet of living space (equivalent to a fourteen square mile home with a hundred foot high ceiling)"
The Walls around this city are 216 feet thick and 1500 miles high (Rev. 21:17). This is thick enough to protect us from harsh outer-space elements.
The gates are made from pearl and its main street from transparent, glassy gold. Stunningly beautiful!
A river runs through the city - which suggests there may be streams, lakes, and waterfalls. Prime waterfront properties!
There will be no more sea or sun (as we know it) which suggests no more hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes or other unstable weather conditions.
The New Jerusalem is probably a "space city." Note that it comes "down out of heaven" (Rev. 21:2, 21:10). It may also be a satellite city which orbits the new earth and gives light to the planet. Revelation 21:23-24 says that the nations will walk in its light. Neither does the city "need the sun or the moon to shine on it" (Rev. 21:23).
Travel Guides for Earth Dwellers
I suggest that all of us study Heaven - whether we have a cancer diagnosis or not, because, frankly, none of us has much longer to live on planet earth - perhaps fifty more years at best. For this we recommend the following books:
1. Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale, 2004). (Available in books or tapes.
2. Mark Hitchcock, 55 Answers to Questions About Life After Death (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2005).
After doing due diligance and studying what we need to know about heaven, then we need to surround ourselves with loving Christians who will pray with us and help us when difficult times come. Amen?
I'm ready to go. Are you?
After our cancer-stricken friends and other saints have left us,
"Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…" (1 Thess. 4:17, ESV).
Hope to see you there…"Beam me up, Scotty!" (1 Thess. 4:17).
Hatch, Mark. 2007. The end. Ventura, CA: Regal.
Missler, Chuck. 1999. Cosmic codes. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House.
Ross, Hugh. 1996. Beyond the cosmos. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Tipler, Frank. 2007. The physics of Christianity. N.Y.: Doubleday.
PHOTO CREDITS: NASA Website
Authors: Valorie Emilio received her M.A. in History from UCLA having specialized in early church history. Ken received his M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University.