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Most of us are fascinated by accounts of hauntings. I know people who believe they’ve been visited, in some way, by a departed person. Genres of literature and film are devoted to the idea that the dead interact with us. I do not believe it.
I do not believe in ghosts. I do not believe that dead people haunt us. If there are supernatural visitors breaking through to our physical existence, they are not people who have passed on but something else.
But I think I understand why human beings have always imagined that they were haunted. It’s because we are haunted.
My mom passed away a year and a half ago at the age of 96. She had lived a full life but she was spent. We had time to prepare ourselves and it was not a shock, neither do we have the regrets of wondering why she had to die.
And yet I am, more or less, haunted. She visits me many times a day. She is with me, or more precisely I am with her, at another time and another place. I find myself in her house watching TV with her, or sitting by her bed in her room at the nursing home.
Or I am living at home, because I’m younger than I am now, and my mom is in the kitchen baking. Or watching her stories while she irons. Or cutting out a skirt.
It’s been over a year since I’ve been in her house but I can close my eyes and walk into her house and I can smell its familiar smell and see the sunlight coming in the bay windows and feel the temperature of the air and hear the TV in the next room. I can go upstairs, I can feel the emptiness of no one being up there anymore, I can hear every creak on the steps, and see every box and bag and pile on the third floor. It is all vivid, fresh, and real, like I was there an hour ago.
I can distinctly hear her voice, I can hear her faux-operatic singing of Happy Birthday to You over the phone. I see her crooked fingers holding a cookie at the breakfast table. I see her straight fingers applying foundation to her face as she gets made up at that same kitchen table, getting ready to catch the train into center City to use her season ticket at the Academy of Music.
As I go through my day, she is there. I am in my kitchen and I look through my window toward her house, and for a split fraction of a second, almost wonder if I should walk down and see her.
I am haunted by my mom because she was the first person I lost who I could miss in this visceral way. I helped take care of her during her last three years and I saw her almost every day. Every day, navigating my way through the ever-changing stream of her dementia. I needed to map that stream, to understand its habits and its surprises, in order to relate to her in a way that made sense to her. In other words, I was trying to think her thoughts.
We are haunted because we still feel the presence of people we have lost. We are haunted by their presence because our senses still remember them as though they just left the room a minute ago. We are haunted by their absence because we miss them and only our factual processes understand that they are gone for good.
Are we haunted because we want to be?
I think the idea of hauntings took root because we really do continue to experience being with our lost loved ones. My mother was not someone whose memory will easily fade.
Let me tell you a bit about our friend from church, Steve. He is unusually pleasant, always friendly, and an outspoken witness for gospel. Steve engages you in conversation with intensity. I don’t know anyone with more energy. He would do anything he could for anyone he knows and very often does. You can trust his memory and his truthfullness— when he says he was not afraid you can believe him.
One Monday morning last summer, we were shocked to learn that Steve was in the hospital, after having a probable heart attack. I am glad to tell you that today Steve has been restored to us, healthier than ever. The following is what he shared at church a few weeks ago. I will add a few comments after his testimony.
Steve’s Prayer Update
The year 2018 started like any other year. On April 13, I turned 61, and considering my age I thought I was in pretty good health. That all changed June 3rd after returning from a weekend retreat. It was Sunday evening shortly after dinner, I started getting sharp pains in my chest. My first thought was I was having a heart attack. I went to Delaware County Hospital by ambulance, but after they did an EKG on me, the doctor said it was normal.
That is when my memory of my brother John dying from a dissection of his aorta due to the doctors misdiagnosing his condition caused me to tell the emergency room doctor to scan my aorta. Upon scanning my aorta he discovered my assumption was correct. He said I had a major leak near my heart and I needed emergency surgery or I would bleed to death.
I was then transported via ambulance to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, where they had an operating room waiting for me. Upon entering the operating room the doctor asked me medically pertinent questions, I was hooked up to IV’s, and just as I was going to be put to sleep, I overheard the surgeon stating to the OR staff that they had six minutes to open me up to save my life.
Upon hearing this, due to my faith in Jesus, I had no fear. I immediately said a prayer saying, “Jesus, I am in your hands.” The way that I felt was that Jesus would bring me through the operation, or, if it was the Lord’s will that I go to be with him, I would wake up in heaven with Jesus. The Bible says: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Consequently it was not my time to be called home yet; I believe God is not finished with me on this earth so I have more time to serve Him.
When I was in the hospital they gave me a heart shaped pillow for the purpose of holding to my chest when I had to cough to relieve the pressure on my incision. I used it as a reminder to me of what God has done for me. I wrote on it “6/3/18 — The time God saved me yet again!”
When Mark, one of the elders of our church, came for a visit, I asked him to put a Bible verse on my pillow. He chose John 10: 28-29: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
When my friend John came to visit me, he pointed out something I had not noticed. My room number was 1029! It was as if Jesus was reminding me the entire stay in that room that he had me in the palm of his hand.
I spent 12 days in the hospital and was released June 15. I had a few challenges due to the operation. Due to the tubes being down my throat for two days, it paralyzed one of my vocal chords and I could only talk with a whisper. The same condition of the vocal chords not closing properly gave me an aspiration risk so I was put on thickener to be able to drink liquids safely. I also felt very fatigued and lacked my usual endurance. I now have to go see cardiologist which I never needed before. I also was seeing an ENT doctor for my paralyzed vocal chord and aspiration risk assessment. I also had to follow up with the surgeon after the surgery and for further tests that he deemed necessary.
For the past seven monthsI have been doing many things involved in my recovery. First I completed 24 sessions of cardiac rehab therapy, finishing on November 30th. Due to my prayers and many other prayers God has removed the aspiration risk. Due to the working vocal chord compensationg for the non-working one, my voice has been restored. My last visit to the ENT was on December 3rd, and she stated at that time that there is no other procedure I needed to do, and she added, “ There is nothing else we can do to add to what God has already healed.”
I have a lot to be grateful for— the willingness of God the Father to send his Son for all mankind! Jesus is the greatest gift anyone can receive. I’m thankful for Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross to save us from our sins, and by the shedding of his blood washes us as white as snow and gives us everlasting life.
I am thankful to God for bringing me through my surgery successfully and for being with me every step of my recovery process, for restoring my voice, and my stamina is slowly improving over time.
Steve told me that his cardiologist had expected that he would need further surgery to correct some weaknesses in his cardiovascular system. However, this doctor more recently told him that no more treatment would be necessary because, remarkably, his body was healing on its own.
The Sunday after Steve’s release from the hospital, less than a week after his release, he was in church. He looked pale and weakened, and frankly like he should have been at home. I was quite nervous watching him while he stood through every hymn and every song, raising his hands in praise. But Steve could not wait to show everyone what God had done for him.
He did spend the next couple of weeks recovering at home, and looked much heartier when we saw him again. He continues to help wherever he can with amazing energy, and he continues to be a walking, talking representative for Jesus Christ, his Savior.
In Cambodia are the Killing Fields. There, the Khmer Rouge committed 1.5 to 3 million political murders in the late 1970’s. The Killing Fields are so named because many thousands of victims were mass-murdered and immediately buried there. Many victims were buried alive.
Evil is real.
Is the determination of evil a mere social construct? Can 3 million people’s deliberate killings be rationalized? Do we simply fail to comprehend the perceived necessity of the termination of 3 million people?
Do you believe the actors thought that they were achieving something good? No they did not.
The most dedicated relativist knows that atrocities like this are abhorrent. All people know this is abjectly wrong.
If the moral relativist or the multiculturalist can claim that anything is objectively wrong, relativism goes out the window. The relativist cannot acknowledge that atrocities were done by Khmer Rouge then walk away and claim that absolute truth does not exist.
The first lesson that evil teaches us is that objective truth is real. If there is anything objectively wrong, you must admit that there is an absolute moral standard; there is good, and there is evil.
The worst evils are proof that human beings everywhere understand that good and evil are objective and real. If the relativist still disagrees, take his wallet and see if he appeals to some ethical standard he expects you to know about.
The second lesson that evil teaches us is this: if you can recognize that the murdered of the Khmer Rouge were victims of evil, that Rwandan genocide victims died because of evil, that six million Jews died at the hands of an evil final solution…then you are also able to recognize that sixty million pre-born children have died by the same kind of evil.
Our modern and enlightened culture, to its shame, struggles hard to rationalize these killings away.
If you cannot recognize that the abortion of unborn children is unequivocally wrong, (and let us recognize that every abortive method is violent), then you ought to be concerned. If you can rationalize away such death, such injustice, such evil, you have cause to examine yourself.
In the U.S. we fought a Civil War over the issue of slavery. The primary issue was the states’ freedoms to conduct themselves without undue deference to the federal gov’t., but the signal division was whether the fed had the right to impose regulation over slavery or to phase it out. The foundational division was over the institution of of human slavery.
The side fighting and dying for the soon or the eventual elimination of slavery won. The side fighting and dying for the continuation of slavery lost.
In other words, we here in the U.S. decided unequivocally that it is illegal and immoral to own people. We definitely established that long ago. I am right, aren’t I?
Yet I have discussions with people regularly who claim that they have a legal and moral right to own human beings.
It is the pro-choice position that a woman may dispose of her own fetus any way she likes because she owns it. I have been told this countless times. Are pro-choice advocates then proposing that an unborn child is her mother’s slave?
Here are the arguments presented to me:
1. A fetus is:
not sentient enough
not a separate body from its mother;
2. Therefore, not a possessor of human rights.
3. I own it. I may do as I please with it without consequence:
It is in my body.
It is the same as an organ which I may donate.
I can keep or dispense with it as long as it is dependent on me.
4. It’s settled law.
You have no right to tell me what I can do with my property.
5. Yes, it is my slave. I am its slave owner.
( Note: Often, justifications #1 and #2 are skipped as unnecessary, the sole justification given as “it’s in my body.”)
It seems that just moral decisions made long ago are still denied. Slavery is alive and well.
It is true that in this fallen world, the imposition of power by one over another is inescapable. In many relationship contexts, one party is weak and the other is strong. But under such circumstances, moral people do their best to maintain a just balance. And moral people do their best to mitigate harm. In fact, we the strong are all called upon to defer to the weak, to defend the weak, to protect the weak.
In the context regarding unexpected pregnancy, there are two paths to go down. You can assert the power to rule over your own body, and further, your power to rule over the weaker being in your body. Imposing your rights over hers, and ending her life (violently, since there are no nonviolent methods). Establishing that you are accountable to no one.
Or you can recognize that you are a self-determining adult member of a society, accountable to societal morals. You may even recognize that you are accountable to an objective, transcendent moral code. You recognize that all human beings have equal value, and therefore all human beings have equal rights. If you’re not a science denier, you admit that babies in the womb are both living and human in the same manner that you are.
Therefore, you have no right to superimpose your rights to your preference over your baby’s right to life.
You make the best of a difficult situation and choose from options which preserve the fetus’ life as well as your own well-being.
Which of these paths is the more reasonable? Which is the less dire? Which results in no deaths? Which respects the humanity of all parties?
Let’s end slavery for real.
The heavenly announcement that Immanuel had arrived first came to the least likely people. Shepherds were loners, spending most of each year outside the population centers, keeping watch over sheep. They were an essential component of society but they were nevertheless part of an unsightly underclass. They were probably the most remote, least social, most invisible people to spend this news upon.
The message came not to the important nor the socially connected. Not to the centers of city and government but to the forgotten wilderness. Why?
Consider that they were shepherds! Christ called himself a shepherd: we are his sheep. He lays down his life for the sheep. His sheep hear his voice and follow him. They trust him and only in him do they find comfort and safety. These men understood the role of the shepherd and to shepherds first this Shepherd became known.
There is a simple principle in Scripture, and in God’s economy. The least will be greatest; the last shall be first. The father knows that it is the neglected, the humble, the poor who are likely awake to his message.
The shepherds were awake. Jesus Christ was born deep in the night. Most people were in every way asleep. The most significant announcement in all of human history did not put on an extravaganza in the palace of the most powerful ruler. Only these lonely shepherds, wide awake and vigilant, experienced an angel’s announcement and a heavenly host’s praise!
Note that we are commanded more than once to be, like the shepherds, “awake.” This piece of news was not anticipated nor expected. There had been no prophets for 400 years. Aside from Holy Writ, God’s voice had remained silent for generations. How astounding was it that these few overnight shift laborers encountered such a message! Almighty God opening his intentions to the world, sending a message of hope and comfort, through these humble men. What a privilege.
God has always commissioned humble messengers. The rich and powerful were rarely chosen to be the bearers of his message. The shepherds— poor, outcast, possibly unkempt — ran and told what they had seen and heard to everyone who would listen. They presented a challenge to their hearers! One had to meet their news with one’s own measure of humility in order to believe their story, and to join them in becoming “awake.”
Angels from God announce the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus the Christ. We marvel at Mary’s great faith when she humbly consents to the angel’s commission. We contrast her attitude with Zechariah’s, a request for proof from the angel. Both say something like, “How can this be?” But he is questioning the truth of the message while she is humbly asking how it could be accomplished (how can I have a baby, since I am a virgin? I am the Lord’s maidservant, but how?)
Given that Scripture records every person who is confronted with a heavenly messenger needing to be reassured first: “Do not be afraid,” both responses are remarkable.
Here is Zecharaiah, faced with an angel straight from the presence of God, overwhelming, terrifying. Yet he finds space to question whether the message could be true, and whether it will be possible for God to accomplish His will.
For Mary, the angel’s presence is enough. His appearance to her obliterated any need for proof, any doubts about what he would have to say. He is an emissary straight from God!
For Mary, the angel’s message is daunting but at the same time, reassuring. His words are straight from the God who sees her, knows her, blesses her above every other woman. She is one who honors God and she chooses to hear what He has to say in perfect trust. Of the two, it is her response which is the more reasonable.
The world will not blaze a path for you because you are commissioned with God’s work. Think of Mary again. Wasn’t it enough, she might have complained silently, that I bore for a time the shame of unmarried pregnancy, that I bear this child, but I must be present NOW so far away to be accounted like a sheep? The census decreed by Augustus was timing’s perfect storm for Mary. She rode ninety miles on a beast of burden just before it was her time to give birth.
Many of you remember what that nine-month burden feels like: heavy, awkward, the “dropped” baby lying full weight on your bladder. Now imagine riding on a donkey for ninety miles just like that. Make no mistake—that was real misery. No doubt Mary bore the unbearable circumstances better than most of us would have.
It is enough to say this fallen world will only make it harder to do right, much less to bear the greatest burdens that the Lord asks of us.