Monday, August 15, 2016

Dealing With Terminal Illness

Psalm 88:1-18

A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief Musician upon Mahalath Leannoth, Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Tradition says that this Psalm was a statement of Heman the Ezrahite’s experiences as a person with a terminal illness.    

“O LORD God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee: Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry; For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.  I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength: Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.” (Psalm 88:1-5)

The author had reached a point where there was no longer hope of his surviving.  He had prayed, but had seen no change and now he was praying God would listen because he believed his death was very near.  He was very troubled in spirit, and no longer had the strength ot keep fighting.    Even death would be a relief, not to have to keep struggling, even though it also meant he would not be able to reach out to God. 

“Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.  Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.  Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.  Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.” (Psalm 88:6-9)

He was struggling with depression and felt that God was angry with him.  It seemed like God just kept sending wave after wave of bad news.  At the same time, it seemed like all his friends and acquaintances had deserted him because they found it so upsetting to be around him and he could not go out to find someone to talk to.  He was left to suffer alone and he had the feeling God wasn’t listening, despite his prayers. 

“Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.  Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?  Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” (Psalm 88:10-12)

He was asking why God allowed it to reach that point.  How much would a dead person benefit from seeing God’s miracles?  Even if they could enjoy it they couldn’t tell those who were still alive and it wouldn’t matter to the others who were dead.  Nobody would know what God had done for him.

“But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.  LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?  I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.  Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.  They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.  Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.” (Psalm 88:13-18

Despite his feeling God is angry, he would continue to pray, wondering why God was angry and refused to answer.  He was terrified about what was coming and felt like he was drowning in the fear, and was isolated from even those who loved him.  He wished he had died as child to avoid what he was going through. 

Heman’s experiences are normal for people going through terminal illnesses, and many times those who love them are so upset by what is happening that they withdraw, just at the time they are most needed emotionally, convinced they cannot help and trying to protect their own emotions.  While they cannot prevent the death, just knowing someone cares enough to be there can provide a great deal of emotional relief, even though they can’t answer the questions.     Too often we are too concerned with our own feelings to worry about the sense of isolation the sick person feels, even for medical professionals such as doctors and nurses.  

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