When Things Won’t Get Better

I have a friend whose husband is suffering from dementia. The older I get, the more aware I grow of how common this malady seems to be. As a pastor, I’ve encountered it before from former members who’ve gone on to be with the Lord. But this is the first time I’m walking together with a spouse facing this disease head-on with their beloved. There is no cure for dementia; there is only suffering, and then death. What do you do when things won’t get better?

There are all sorts of things you can do. My preferred vice is ice cream, and I suspect it is the balm of many afflicted souls. What is your preferred means of burying your grief? Whenever I attempt to drown my sorrows with ice cream, nothing changes. Sure, I’ve guaranteed that my stretchy pants may be the only fashionable choice I have in the future, but most fundamentally, my means of escape has failed to address the real problem: all of us have to die.

There I said it. I acknowledge the Boogieman that lies dormant behind our “Netflix and Chill” culture. I’ve admitted the one fact that none of us want to confront: we are mortal; we will all die. This cannot be stopped. It may halted for a season. It may be hampered by physical fitness and good dieting, but our mortality is an inescapable feature of our fallen humanity. Even more, we may someday be the disease-stricken individual being visited by those we love, but cannot remember.

What do we do? I’ve already mentioned one plan of attack: ice cream. However, our attempts at escape cannot handle the weight of our grief. Rather than turn away from the pain and seek to treat it with whatever modern soma our hearts can produce, I want us to stare into the abyss.

The ghastly reality of our mortality reminds us of our general powerlessness. I hate this fact. Perhaps this is why people must always give themselves over and over again to the next big thing, or the same vices without satisfaction. It is our inherent inability to find what we need.

Is there an adequate response when things won’t get better? I do believe so, and it comes to us from a songbook written millennia before Hendrix graced us with a tune as epic as “Machine Gun.” The Psalms seem to address every shard of the completely fractured world of our cracked hearts of glass.

How do the Psalms treat our sorrow? By pointing our eyes to the God who is neither mortal nor powerless. David writes in Psalm 138:7 “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me.” As a prophet, David spoke both concerning the reality of his situation of difficulty and of the future suffering and victory of Christ at the cross. With that latter point in particular, suffering laid the foundation for life.

We look at the horrors of the cross and wonder how good could ever come from something as horrible as that event. But Scripture reminds us that the wickedness of men, or even the fallenness of our world cannot undo the plan and power of God. In short, God gives us what the world never could: hope.

My dear friend will never get better. They have to die. But their death does not mark a failure, or a descent into hopelessness. The Greeks understood death as the pale hopelessness of the underworld where the memories of the dead could only be restored by the sacrifices of the living. But that fable spun by Homer remains a myth.

For the Christian, death is the final victory over sin. Death is the finish line whereby we enter into the immediate presence of God Himself. Void of sickness. Void of sorrow. Void of every ailment which would cause us pain. Can you imagine such a world with me? It is neither a wish or fairy tale, but the true hope of every Christian.

Every corrupt whisper of death, sickness, and sin is silenced by the crackling thunder of God’s Word to His people. We are reminded by Paul, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:7).

My friend will never get better. But when they breathe their last in a horrid stupor of uncertainty, they will in the next moment peer into the glorious light of the Son of God whose nail-pierced hands will wipe away every ounce of confusion. Then my friend shall declare with all sobriety, “My king.” And nothing will be able to undo them again. This is my hope, and I pray it may be yours as well.

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