Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Does It Matter?

"What does it matter anyway? We all die in the end." -- the character Diana in Knowing.

I cannot let this Easter season pass without commenting on the enormous impact my recent experience has had on how I celebrate the Resurrection. My purpose is not to debate the veracity of Christ’s resurrection. (You are free to pursue that on your own. Here is just one resource.) In spite of “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3) an affirmative answer will ultimately be based on faith – it was intended to be so (Heb 11:6). Rather I am driven to urge you to contemplate the consequences to you and me if the resurrection is true.

In the recently released science fiction thriller Knowing, an astrophysicist (portrayed by Nicolas Cage) reviews the evidence of the incredible precision required for intelligent life to exist in the universe and poses to his students the philosophical alternatives to explain this remarkable phenomenon: Life exists either as a result of “randomness” (materialistic world view) or “determinism” (a more politically correct way of referring to intelligent design). He is then confronted with a document written by a little girl 50 years earlier who accurately predicts every major disaster including the events of 9/11/2001 and a world-wide calamitous event yet to come. At a climactic moment in the movie, with all mankind facing what appears to be inevitable and imminent destruction, the question is asked "What does it matter anyway? We all die in the end." The scene is reminiscent of another sci fi flick Aliens when Hudson proclaims, “Game over man!

I wanted to shout out right there in the movie theater, “It does matter! The game isn’t over!” The Easter story, made more poignant by my own brush with death, has prompted me to contemplate anew “What indeed does it matter?” When Jesus was confronted with His imminent (and we might add untimely, unfair and horrible) demise, what impact did that knowledge have on His attitude and actions? What difference did the awareness of His rapidly approaching, active suffering and gruesome physical death make? As I pondered once more the details of His passion and resurrection, I found answers that resonate powerfully with my own experience.

Intimacy – The scene in the garden of Gethsemane portrays a relationship between the Heavenly Father and the Son that is at once intimate, honest, tender, and ardent. In a more public setting, He addresses God as “Our Father” but in this sequestered moment He pleads "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Mat 26:39) The Father responds by sending an angel to Him to strengthen Him. (Luke 22:43) I can honestly say that I have never known a more intimate, powerful, palpable presence of God than when I lay powerless, breathless, and wracked with pain one year ago as the melanoma was spreading rampantly throughout my body.

Immediacy – Jesus seemed to sense the need for events and individuals to move to a point of decision, to “fish or cut bait”. Knowing what was lurking in the heart of Judas, and having just shared with him a portion of the Passover bread, Jesus urges him “What you do, do quickly." (John 13:27) He compelled Judas to get off the fence, stop the pretending and commit himself. Throughout this past year, knowing fully what is at stake, more appreciative than ever of both the inestimable value and frailty of this earthly life, I have gained a sense of urgency to share the lessons I have learned on this journey with cancer. I rarely miss an opportunity to tell my story and actively look for ways to engage others in conversation about eternal values. Each of us needs to make a choice. (Deut 30:19, Josh 24:15)

Immunity – Once Jesus made His choice in the garden, there was nothing that could deter Him from the course He had chosen. Fully conscious of both the suffering and separation that He was about to endure, He was impervious to dissuasion or discouragement. He put down a brief attempt by Peter to avert His arrest, commanding that he sheath his sword. (Mat 26:52-54) He was driven by an immovable purpose that no amount of adversity or humiliation would alter or defer. (Phil 2:5-8) While I cannot claim the same degree of immunity to difficult circumstances, this experience has engendered a new-found strength and resilience that is anchored in a firm relationship with Him. Stripped of all the external trappings of self-worth (e.g., esteemed physician, financial success, etc.), I have found a rock-solid foundation in my core identity and purpose as His friend and servant. (John 15:15)

Impassioned – Above all else, the story of Jesus’ tortuous death reveals His passionate fervor to complete that which the Father had called Him to do, and in the midst of His suffering to reach out to others with love and mercy. While in agony on the cross, He ministered to the repentant thief (Luke 23:43) and even uttered words of forgiveness to His torturers (Luke 23:34). Having a fresh taste of the Lord’s goodness and grace as He clearly sustained me when near death and favored me with a remarkable recovery, I am constrained to share the rewards of knowing Him with others like never before. My prayers for others are more specific, more frequent, and more fervent.

Invincibility – Finally, Jesus’ anticipation and confident expectation of His own resurrection allowed Him to claim victory over sin and death even before it was literally accomplished. (John 12:23-27) And in this anticipated victory He was filled with joy despite the enormous suffering He had to endure. (Heb 12:2) This is not a silly giddiness that ignores or denies the pain, but rather a transcendent satisfaction and elation that comes from certitude over the ultimate outcome of the battle. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, Jesus’ disciples clearly did. There could be no other explanation for how their despondency was transformed into overcoming gladness, passion and sustained courage. My personal experience of this phenomenon is perhaps the most difficult to explain. Both Linda and I now possess a settled joy that, to the casual observer, sometimes appears inappropriate. I won’t try to fully explain it – I just know it is real. (Rom 8:37)

When confronted with imminent death, Jesus provided for us a powerful answer to the question, “What does it matter, anyway?” His life, His agonizing death, and His resurrection provide the tapestry upon which have been woven an image of hope and victory that can cover and protect us if we are willing to follow Him. “Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it's logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil's hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.” (Heb 2:14-15)

In contrast to those characters in the movie who faced their inevitable demise with either panic or resignation, I have learned to live each day with a new intimacy toward my Maker, a sense of immediacy regarding decisions that impact our destiny, a newly-acquired immunity to adversity, more impassioned toward the needs of others, and sustained by a settled confidence in the ultimate victory. This is the life we celebrate at Easter. This is the life of faith.

May you too know the transformative power, freedom and joy of His resurrection.
Dr Dan


  1. I am finding these days, that the sting of death, is in fact no sting when you are facing an eternity of wholeness, health, and daily bread with a Saviour who gave His whole life and whole world for you. I miss my own earthly father so tremendously, but can you just imagine his joy when he spent his first Easter in the hall of the King?

  2. Dan and Linda: Bob Fentress here. You continue to be an inspiration. I feel honored to have Dan call and for us to get together. Sorry the last meal out was cut short. Here I am having such a challenging time coping with my new life without Marilyn and here you two are, fighting with incredible courage and faith. I know there are so many people cheering you on.


  3. Dan,

    Thank you for your reminder of what it is like to be broken and defenseless physically, but to know the power of God's presence because of it all. Your comment, "I can honestly say that I have never known a more intimate, powerful, palpable presence of God than when I lay powerless, breathless, and wracked with pain . . ." is a wake up call.

    Your experience and reflections have reminded me on several occasions to spend less time asking God to remove my trials. God truly causes all things to work together for good, so I'm reminded to thank Him for whatever pain I experience, and allow His presence to open my eyes and see others through His eyes.

    Thank you for seeing through His eyes and reminding me to do the same. Holly and I continue to pray for you and Linda and your family.