Now What?

Warren E. Berkley

“Now What?”

The story is told of an author, William Saroyan, who had achieved great success in his field. His works had been acclaimed in the literary world, his name was a familiar entry on best-seller lists, and he had even been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. But now he lay dying in New York City of cancer, which had spread to several of his vital organs.

One evening, as Saroyan reflected on his condition and what the future held for him, he placed a phone call to Associated Press. After identifying himself to the reporter who answered his call, he posed a question that revealed the honest, searching sensitivity that had characterized his career. It was a final statement to be used after his death (which occurred later in May of 1981).

He said, “Everybody has got to die. But I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?” And then he hung up the phone. (Cited in Reader’s Digest, Dec. 1981, p. 136.)

Coming to terms with our mortality is a challenge of common experience. There is a will to live most of us have in strong measure. We may not even want to think about or talk about death. Though, in the academic data center of our minds, we know death lies ahead. We attend funerals, read obituaries, drive by cemeteries and pay life insurance premiums. Yet often, when we hear the dreaded diagnosis, or actually feel our bodies giving up – we don’t want to believe it. We may struggle to hang on or deny what is certain to be.

I’ve been present at – so far as man can determine – the very moment of death. I’ve witnessed people draw one final breath, then go still. I was present when my father died. I was in the room next to my mother’s bed when my mother drew her final breath. The experience is sobering but does not completely bring me to terms with my own mortality. It is more emotion, and can fade away from personal reality.

What is real is my conviction and the hope produced by that conviction, that just as Christ was raised to glory, His people will be raised to glory. See, it is not some dramatic present experience here on earth that eases the fear of death. It is something that happened over 2,000 years ago, with all the testimony and evidence I have that it really happened. Knowing that, I am able to come to terms with death – but only as one in Christ.

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