Still Our Son

Thursday, February 4, 2016

I was called to the hospital by the chaplain’s office. An Adventist family from far away was requesting an Adventist pastor. At the hospital, the chaplain gave me some details, and I headed to the ICU.

I met Dad and Mom and some friends of the patient. Dad gave me the barest details. Son had arrested five days earlier. The prognosis was grim. A miracle was the only hope. Would I be able to call an elder and perform an anointing. Yes, of course, I could.

Naturally, I asked questions. And learned almost nothing that I couldn’t already see. The patient on life support was too young to die and too far gone not to. I searched for more, looking to add humanity to the body at the center of the machines. But Dad couldn’t bring himself to say the story out loud. He did manage to tell me his son’s profession. But even that was offered reluctantly. Was it because the son’s profession was somehow linked with the other details? His departure from church years ago. The irreligious identities of the young people gathered in the room keeping vigil. None of this could be spoken because it seemed to lead directly to the darkest, most horrific truth : suicide. The patient had deliberately overdosed.

Dad’s religion had a category for “former Adventists” and suicides: Lost. Damned. “Not my people.” I imagined Dad worrying how would this strange clergy respond to the horrible truth. Better to just leave it as a medical emergency. Standing there I longed to assure Dad that this young man was still “our son.” Dad’s son, yes, of course. And God’s son. And therefore, the church’s son. My son. The tragedy that brought us together did not break the family. Could not break the family. He’s still our son.

We casually develop our theories of damnation by imagining people we don’t know, human monsters–Hitler, Stalin, Jeffry Dahmer, Jezebel. We imagine humanity neatly divided into two groups: those who choose God and goodness and those who choose evil. We see people standing in the judgment as autonomous individuals. I think our opinions might change if we saw that every person remains forever a son or daughter. If we have not yet figured out which of our kids or grandkids we would burn, why do we so easily (and sometimes glibly) imagine God burning his kids.