A Symposium

No generation in history has been so exposed to the continuing possibility of sudden, violent human destruction as ours. And few generations have been so ill-prepared to meet it.

People of the twentieth century have tended to look upon death as a universal animal experience, the inevitability of natural existence, a tragic and non-rational prank played upon creatures harassed by a sense of destiny.

Religious cults thrive by dismissing death as an illusion. One columnist suggests that few people, except 19-year-old poets and suicides, any longer behave as though death were inevitable. Even the medical profession prefers to speak softly of “the terminally ill” rather than of the dying. Modern man shuns any real thought of dying; he may make a will to dispose of his property but neglects funeral arrangements for the interment of his own body. Least of all does he think of God and divine judgment as the next stage in the drama of human appointment.

Multitudes whose Christian forefathers regarded death as the faithful soul’s transition to eternal bliss, or the body’s sleep before its resurrection, no longer know how to face death.

Except for the ministry to the newborn, ministry to the dying is perhaps the most delicate and demanding that the clergyman and physician must perform. Perhaps there are few more awesome moments in their lives than face-to-face meetings with one who is about to learn that the illness from which he or she suffers may lead to death in a matter of days or weeks. In such hours, the distressed will turn to the physician and minister for truth and for the assurance that the verdict of their human experience is still good news.

“When you face the dying,” asked CHRISTIANITY TODAY of a group of outstanding ...

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