One of the worst and most depressing experiences I have had happened a few years ago when I sat at the hospital bedside of a dying man. What made it one of my worst experiences was not that he was dying but that he was dying without God. Here was a man teetering on the edge of the Abyss, yet he steadfastly refused to even talk about faith or God, or what there was for him after death. I remember thinking as I walked away how horrible it would be to have to face the death experience on our own without God, or indeed any of the difficult and tragic experiences many have in life. Without God on the road with us life is, in the words of Ecclesiastes, ‘meaningless’ and death an obscene, grotesque hopelessness brooding over life.
That experience reminded me of the story told about the United States president Abraham Lincoln who one day during the American civil war paid a visit to one of the military hospitals. He had spoken many words of sympathy to the wounded as he walked through the hospital, then he came to the bedside of a young soldier, only a boy really about sixteen years of age, who lay there mortally wounded.
Taking the dying boy’s hands in his own, the President asked the boy what he could do for him. The young frightened soldier looked up into the President’s kindly face and asked: “Sir, will you write to my mother for me?” “Of course I will,” answered Mr. Lincoln; and calling for a pen, ink and paper, he seated himself by the soldier’s bedside and wrote as the boy told him to. When it was finished, the president rose, promising to post the letter.
As he went to leave, President Lincoln asked the dying soldier if there was anything else he could do for him. “Would it be asking too much sir –it won’t be long now. Sir it would be easier to die if you would stay and see me through.” The appeal was too strong for the president to resist; so he again sat down by the soldier’s side and took hold of his hand.
When facing death, severe suffering or personal tragedy Christians often turn to the psalms for comfort, frequently Psalm 121. This psalm is probably from the heart of a Jewish pilgrim who has been visiting the temple in Jerusalem and is now about to go out along the road back to normal life through the mountains, the haunt of lions and bandits. He says “I lift my eyes to the hills.”(v.1), to the dangerous journey he must take and sees sinister, brooding giants standing on the track of his future-the mountains that poetically symbolize danger, insecurity and fear. But he also hears God’s words of assurance when he asks and answers the question “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord”.
When we face ‘mountains’ on the road we must travel, particularly the ‘last mountain’, we can be encouraged by that psalm as we face situations of fear, doubt, suffering and danger. We may cry out, “how will I cope, where does my help come from?” We have the same answer, ‘My help comes from the Lord’, the God who is silently present to see us through the ‘Mountains’.
As Lincoln sat on the soldier’s bed the clock struck 11pm, then midnight, 1.00, 2.00, 3.00am passed, then just as the streaks of dawn appeared in the eastern sky, the soul of the young soldier departed. The president closed the young man’s eyes, folded his hands, and went out of the room. He had kept his word, he had stayed by his side, he had ‘seen him through’.
When our final going out occurs and we face that ‘last mountain’, if we have trusted in Christ, we will not experience the horror of doing so without God. For we can be sure that ‘our Father’ is the God who will keep His word, will stay by our side and ‘will see us through’.