Last week a good friend and professional colleague of many years died of pancreatic cancer. We began working together as attorneys for a large international oil company in 1974. He was such a good man – talented in his work, combining intellect and solid legal knowledge with practical application. He was always true to his word, even when the potential consequences could affect him negatively. Though our friendship was primarily professional, I loved him like a brother and we have remained friends beyond our professional lives.
When I reflect on all the reasons I respected him, very few had anything to do with his physical nature. His character and integrity; his sense of fairness and desire to do what was right; his sense of humor and willingness to have a good laugh, even at himself — all of these reflected his heart, that immaterial inner being that we struggle to define, using words like soul, spirit or inner self.
Cancer is an ugly disease. I, too, have struggled with it, but without fatal effect up to this point. While cancer can kill the body, it cannot kill the soul, or heart or whatever word we want to use to describe most of the things that make us who we truly are.
There have been several books published in recent years of people who have had “near death” experiences and later recover and tell about seeing relatives and friends who have died, hearing music and seeing sights they can’t find words to describe and in some cases meeting Jesus. The authors have included a couple of doctors, including a neurosurgeon, a minister, an airline pilot, and a 3 year old boy, among others. I grew up listening to my mother describe such an experience when she was in an auto accident and suffered near fatal head injuries before she was married.
Job asks, “If a man dies will he live again?” (Job 14:14) Jesus answers the question. We die to this physical world in the current age, but if we believe in him, the best part of us lives on, soul and spirit. Jesus says, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life…he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) Later he says to Martha before the raising of Lazarus, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25, 26)
I believe St. Paul has the most encouraging words on this subject when he says, “ No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) My friend has died physically to his family and to those of us who knew him, but the most important part of him still lives.