Some friends of mine have been diagnosed with cancer. It’s a serious diagnosis that takes time to come to terms with. Often there is difficult treatment to face; surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The treatment may continue over many months and there are side effects to cope with. The support of specialist nurses through organisations like McMillan and Marie Curie enables patients to be cared for at home. In a recent advert a person who was being cared for by Marie Curie nurses said, “They helped me to live even though I was dying.”
Death is the one event we must all, one day, face. Coming to terms with our mortality is important if we are to know how we should live now. Facing death makes us seek answers to vitally important questions. Is there a God? What is the meaning of life? What happens when I die? Is there life after death? If one day I must face my Maker, how should I be living? Finding the answers to these questions enables us to live even though we are dying.
The Bible tell us about the God who created all things. Our life is a gift from God and not the result of chance events. God knows each of us personally. In Psalm 139 David says, “You have searched me, O Lord, and you know me. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Everyone who comes to know God in the last days of their life wishes they had come to know him sooner.
The God who created us also sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to give us the gift of eternal life. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Trusting in Jesus we live our lives in daily fellowship him and know that, when we die, we shall go to be with him in heaven. When I was in school, we sang a hymn which is a prayer about knowing God both in living and in dying; “God be in my head, and in my understanding; God be in my eyes, and in my looking; God be in my mouth, and in my speaking; God be in my heart, and in my thinking; God be at mine end, and at my departing.”
I have been in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. At Manaus two great branches of the Amazon River meet – the Solimões and the Negro. It is one of the great sights of the natural world. The water of the Solimões is light brown and the water of the Negro is black. As the 2 great rivers converge the waters do not immediately mix, but flow together side by side for many miles. The massive scale of the Amazon River is difficult to appreciate until you actually see it. One fifth of all the fresh water which flows into the oceans of the world comes from the Amazon. When the Amazon flows into the sea it takes 70 to 80 miles before the fresh water is fully mixed with the salt water.
The book of Ecclesiastes explores the meaning of life when lived without God. The author wrote, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” The water cycle of rain and evaporation means that rivers continually flow and yet the sea does not overflow. Many generations of people have lived by the Amazon River, travelled on it and fished in it. They are now no more, but still the river flows. What does this say to us about the meaning of our lives?
In the Bible rivers are a symbol of God’s blessing. There was a river in the Garden of Eden. In his vision of heaven, in the book of Revelation, John says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”
Water is also a symbol of spiritual refreshment and heavenly blessing. In Psalm 23 David says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” In Revelation 7 John says, “For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” So the beauty of rivers like the majestic Amazon points us to the deep and lasting fulfilment we can find in God himself, who created us to know him.