THE PARENTAL PALE HORSE


The issue of death has been very much on our minds in the past month or so as we have been confronted with three deaths involving the near relatives of the members of this church. Besides that, some of us have also noticed that in recent weeks there seem to be an increase in the number of funeral wakes set up in the void-decks of HDB blocks. Perhaps it is due to the fluctuating weather. Perhaps it is simply the Lord’s providential reminder to us, not to become complacent with regards to the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14).


Providentially, also, we were studying Philippians 1:21 last Lord’s Day, where we saw what the Apostle Paul means when he says: “For me… to die is gain.” In accordance with the context of the verse, we dealt mainly with Christian death, against a brief backdrop of the world’s views and attitudes towards death.


In this short article, we want to continue the subject from a different angle, in order that we may pause and think for a moment not so much concerning our own death, which was dealt with in the sermon last Lord’s Day, but concerning the death that will come upon our loved ones who are in their senior or evening years.


Universality and Suddenness of Death


For a start, I believe, it is needful for us to remind ourselves that death is universal and can come upon anyone suddenly.


Death was brought about by the fall of Adam (Rom 5:12), and since then it has affected all men and have come upon all men regardless of their stations in life, gender and age. Many perish in old age, but a great many perish in infancy and youth too. In the history of mankind, only two persons did not experience death, namely, Enoch and Elijah. Both of them were translated to heaven in extraordinary circumstances. Death, for all others, is appointed by God (Heb 9:27), and none can escape (except those alive when Christ returns: 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thes 4:15, 17), for “there is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death” (Ecc 8:8a).


According to one population statistics, about 2 persons die in the world every second. This means that on an average day, at every minute, more than 100 people would die around the world, and by the time you finish this article, more than 1,000 people would have entered their eternal destinies. According to the same statistics, 140,000 people die each day, of which 30,000 are children under 5 years of age. This is excluding the large but unknown number of abortions and miscarriages that occur every minute. Truly, Moses is right when he says: “Thou carriest them away as with a flood” (Ps 90:5).


It is true that mortality rates around the world are dropping because of medical and technological advances, but hardly anyone will venture to say that there will come a day in this present world when man will be inoculated against death. No, death is a certainty for all men because of the curse of sin. We will all die, and all our friends and relatives will die. Statistically, those in the prime of life are less likely to die in any single day than those who are in their evening years. So, most of us (at least, in PCC) are more likely, within the next two decades or so, to have to attend the funerals of our parents and relatives rather than that of a fellow church member. But time and again, we are reminded that there are always exceptions as young men and women with seemingly very bright futures ahead are cut down in their youth. And so we must all be prepared to die; but at the same time we must also be prepared for the death of our loved ones, especially if they are approaching their evening years. Indeed, with each passing year, we must be even more prepared that death will occur in that year. Moses reminds us of this fact when he says under inspiration:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away (Ps 90:10).


It has been estimated that the average life expectancy of male children born in Singapore in the year 2000 is 77.1 years, whereas for females it is 83.23. But the life expectancy of those born before 1970 is only 66 years or less, 4 years short of the 70-year average stated by Moses. Are our parents approaching 70 or have passed 70? We must be prepared for the increased possibility of their departure within the year.


Let us not be complacently thinking that only when we see signs of deteriorating health that we should begin to prepare for their departure. When death strikes according to the appoint-ment of God, it is almost always sudden and usually unexpected. Remember that death can occur for a great number of reasons, not just illness. Death can occur also because of minor accidents. For a person who is very advanced in age, a fall or even a cut can be fatal.


Though it may be unpleasant to think about, or anticipate, the death of our beloved parents, it is far better that we be prepared than to be caught off guard with the possibility of being inundated with guilt for our failures and negligence.


Preparation for our Parents’ Death


Take note that we are referring not just to mental preparation, and preparation in terms of buying insurance coverage, but more so to preparation in terms of duties and responsibilities. What are some of the areas in which we ought to be prepared?


In the first place, it is needful for us to begin examining our relationship towards our aging parents. Have we been treating them with respect and honour (Ex 20:12)? Or have we been taking them for granted or, worst, treating them as strangers and burdens. It is an exceedingly sad thing to see children mourning the death of their father when it is known that when the father was alive, they not only neglected him, but also were often abusive towards him. Beloved, even the world would feel indignant at such a sight (cf. 1 Tim 5:8). Let none of us be found guilty of such grotesque hypocrisy. Let us not wait till death, before showing love and concern, for it would be too late then. It is true that some parents can be very exasperating and hard to love. But as Christ loves us who are not just unlovely but hateful, are we not able to love our parents who nurtured and maintained us, whatever their faults may have been? And if we find it not in our hearts to love them for one reason or another, shall we not find all means to honour them for Christ’s sake (1 Jn 5:3)?


In the second place, it is needful for us to be concerned with our parents’ spiritual state. If the Christian friends I know are anything to go by, it would appear that most of us who are in our twenties to forties (in PCC and in Singapore) are first-generation Christians, or are second-generation Christians, where our parents have been converted under rather shallow Arminian campaigns. Experience has shown us that very few of our parents, who profess to be Christians, are sound in their faith. Many remain in ignorant superstitions despite their apparent conversions. Now, therefore it behoves us who have unbelieving parents to pray for them; and to take every prudent opportunity to tell them about Christ and to urge them to seek Him while there is yet time. At the same time, it would also behove those who are unsure of their parents’ faith to show genuine care and to fulfil our debt towards them by humbly and lovingly expounding unto them the way of God more perfectly (cf. Acts 18:26).


Now, it must be admitted that it is not easy to do so. Many of us will find it difficult to express ourselves effectively to our parents about spiritual matters in the language that they are comfortable with, since a large number of our parents know little English whereas most us would worship, read and think in English. If that be the case, my suggestion would be to try to get a mature believer who is able to express himself well, in the dialect of our parents, to talk to them. Some other of us may be hindered in trying to talk to our parents not so much because of language barriers, but because we fear that our parents would despise our youth and retort that they have eaten more salt than we have eaten rice. This fear is not unfounded, especially in the context of the Asian culture, where the attitude of parental superiority is very strong. What do we do in such a circumstance? I believe we may also want to try engaging someone older to befriend our parents. But beyond that, I believe we should ask the Lord for courage to speak. Consider Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God (2 Tim 1:7–8).


Speaking to our parents concerning their errors may incur their displeasure and ridicule, but keeping quiet is to refuse to be partakers of the afflictions of the gospel, and to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. Albeit his wrong assessment of Job, I believe young Elihu was right when he said:

I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom. But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment (Job 32:7–9).


Beloved, let us not wait till it is too late to prepare for our parents’ departure. Do not presume that our parents may be more willing to hear the Word when they are on the bed of affliction or on the deathbed. The certainty of conversion on deathbeds is always suspicious. William Guthrie has well said:

The Bible, which ranges over a period of four thousand years, records but one instance of a death-bed conversion, one that none may despair, and but one that none may presume.


Attitudes Towards our Parents’ Death


Now, finally, what should our attitude be when the moment comes for our parents to depart?

In the first place, guilt will be natural if we have neglected our parents’ physical and spiritual well being when they were still alive. If we had neglected to provide for their needs, no amount spent to make the funeral an elaborate affair will sooth the feeling of guilt that is bound to overwhelm us if we have a Christian conscience. Again, no amount of rationalising will help us if we have made no effort to tell them about Christ or to have them hear the gospel, or to steer them to the way of Christ, in the case where they have been living in hypocritical profession of faith.


Now, in saying all these, it is not my purpose at all to rub salt into the conscience of anyone of us who have felt guilt due to our past neglect towards our deceased parents. I believe firmly that whenever we come to Christ upon realisation of our sin and failures, we will find forgiveness in Him. And so if you have experiences of guilt, hesitate not to flee to Christ at all, weep before Him for your negligence, but doubt not that He has forgiven as soon as you have poured your hearts to Him. But for those of us whose parents are still living, let us take heed to do what is required of us cheerfully. Let none of us tempt God by thinking that we can escape any neglect simply by rationalising that we can find forgiveness when the time comes (Rom 6:1ff).


In the second place, if we have done what we could, given the limitations of our providential circumstances and limitations, then we need not feel guilt even if our parents should perish in unbelief. Neither need we question why God has not allowed them to live a little longer that we may have more opportunities to bring the gospel to them. Always remember that God has determined the eternal destiny of every person from all eternity, and He has also appointed their time of death (Ecc 3:2; Heb 9:27). Before our parents die, we do not know if they have been elected of God, and so we must make every effort to seek their salvation. But once our parents depart, then even if they depart in unbelief, we must acquiesce to the will of God. Yes, it is natural to grieve, but we must not let guilt overwhelm us, for salvation is ultimately in the hands of the Lord.


In the third place, if our parents were to die in the faith, then albeit the feeling of lost, we must be thankful to the Lord that they are brought into the comfortable presence of Christ to be with Him for all eternity. We must not weep unduly as though we do not believe that they are in a far better place (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13).


Conclusion


Although under normal circumstances, it is a general principle that “the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (2 Cor 12:14), yet it is good and acceptable before God for children to “requite their parents” (1 Tim 5:4). All of us owe our parents a great debt, and so we ought to study how to requite their kindness towards us. Has the Lord blessed us with salvation and a greater light of the gospel? Woe are we if we hide the light in a bushel or sound an uncertain trumpet with our unchristian attitudes and manner of life. May the Lord grant us courage and wisdom, therefore, to show love and care in tangible and spiritual means towards these who have been instruments of the Lord for our nurture from infancy.


JJ Lim