Faith at life’s end can blossom, or it can flicker.
For Karl Krienke, faith was his firm foundation. Listening to the speakers at his memorial service a week ago, I couldn’t help but pick up that theme. A professor emeritus, he taught at Seattle Pacific University for 44 years in physics, mathematics and computer science. He earned a doctorate in astronomy and felt confident that discovering the universe brings us closer to the Creator.
Ordained as a minister in the Free Methodist Church, he combined theology with his love for science and astronomy. At one point he said, “We are in the process of discovering God as greater than we even envisioned before.” That faith carried him to the end.
Faith, for others, though, is difficult at life’s end. The minister who delivered the sermon at Karl Krienke’s funeral spoke of his mother’s fear she had lost her faith. She had served God faithfully as a missionary in India for years, and had devoted her whole life to God. But at the end, she doubted herself and wondered, “Will I go to heaven?”
“I just can’t hold onto God,” was how she expressed her uncertainty about the future.
That angst about being worthy enough to go to heaven isn’t uncommon among those who were raised in the early to mid 1900s in conservative churches. A brand of Christianity banned certain practices such as drinking, dancing, wearing jewelry, playing cards, etc. The emphasis was on works; and the insinuation was that doing or not doing certain things proved you were a true Christian.
My father was raised in that culture. In his last days, he agonized over his eternal destiny. “I don’t know if God can forgive me,” he would say. No, he hadn’t committed the unpardonable sin. Not even close. He was a Christian pastor who had worked tirelessly in helping people understand and live the Gospel. Somehow now he was stuck on his unworthiness.
It broke my heart to see him suffer so. I prayed for guidance in what to say, besides “I’m so sorry.”
After I finally got up the nerve to speak, I said, “Daddy, do you remember what you told us so many years ago about God’s love? That God loves us no matter what?” I promised him that every time I spoke with him I would remind him of God’s love.
And what about the elderly missionary woman who was sure she lost her hold on God? I’m sure her son thought a bit about what to tell her. He said, “I know you think you can’t hold onto God. I want you to know something. God is carrying you, holding you tight, and he won’t ever let you go.”