Tim Keller died nearly six months ago, a giant of faith whose legacy will inspire generations to come. His remarkable ability to distill the truth of the gospel was clear even to the end, as his son Michael posted some of his last words.
I am so thankful for Tim’s family and their generosity in sharing these precious moments. As death has moved from a home bound, community based process into a medicalized procedure, we’ve lost something precious. How do people die? What is a good death? How do I know, if I’ve not seen it? Few of us get to witness the last moments of others.
Even in his death, Tim has taught us something essential. For one final time on this earth, Tim distilled the gospel into its purest form. “Send me home. I can’t wait to see Jesus.”
What a gift to those of us still running the race! What a testimony.
My own grandfather died this winter, and I was privileged to spend his last days with him. Suffering from dementia and in and out of consciousness, we weren’t able to have lucid conversations about what’s next. There were things I wanted to do for my Grandad–ways I wanted to serve him–that only became clear in the light of death’s dawning reality. I wanted to serve him bodily at the end. I wanted my familiar hands–the hands of his beloved granddaughter–to help usher Grandad into the next world. With help from hospice, I adjusted his pillows, gave him pain medication, and just sat, holding his hands. Sometimes he’d make signs that he recognized my presence. And remarkably, the morning he died, he told me clearly–”I want to go home”.
This is the culmination of the Christian faith–to meet our death bravely, and with hope, no matter the circumstance. At peace with himself and God, my grandfather, like Tim, voiced his heart's desire. Home.
Though death seems far from most of us, especially the young and healthy, we need to understand the metaphysical reality always at hand. Our own death follows us as a shadow because this world is not our home. I’m not growing anymore, as my children are. Even now, at age thirty, my body is even now beginning the slow descent of death. I am starting my journey home.
Christian, hold your death before your eyes, if you want the sharp clarity only God’s truth can bring.
My son David was born with a death sentence. His complex web of birth defects have us constantly guessing at the length of his days. David will not have last words like Tim and my grandfather when he meets his maker. He does not have a memory, or a feeling of needing to go home in the intellectual sense.
David, like a cancer patient, has something more profound. His ticket home is written on his very body. His eyes and face, marred with the effects of defects, state their own longing for home clearer than any words. David’s near sightless eyes long for true sight. David’s inability to walk makes plain his desire to truly run.
Yes, David will not have last words. But Jesus’s last words are for David. It is finished!
Someday, David’s voice and eyes and legs will shout and see and run. He will scramble up onto the lap of his Passover Lamb. His little arms will wrap around the neck of the one whose head once hung in death, a crown of thorns weighing him down. David’s voice will raise in a mighty shout—praising with the angels and saints—”Worthy is the lamb who was slain!”
Death is a door we all must walk through. This is where the deepest metaphysical reality meets our physicality. Earlier this year, Tim walked up to that door. Christ opened the door for Tim. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” Jesus said.
Christ himself is the door. Jesus ripped the veil that separated heaven and earth. He has made a way. His body broken on Calvary is the way. Whoever knocks, it shall be opened to him.
Death holds no sting for those that are in Christ. The kingdom of God is at hand. The best story ever written is for the people of God—for Tim, for my grandfather, for David, for me.
Saints, we who hear the voice of the Shepherd are coming to be with you. Someday, I too will walk through the door. And we will be home together until the days melt into each other as one long stretch of light.
Alleluia, we’ll say, tears wiped from our eyes, Christ is with us! And he is the prize.
With Christ forever, we’ll rule and we’ll reign. From the stars to the seashore, we’ll be shouting his name.
Worthy is the lamb! We will sing with a shout. We know God is for us, without a doubt.
The Valley of Shadows will be just a memory. God makes things alive—for all of eternity.
We don’t have to be afraid, because we know the end. With Jesus forever, our creator, redeemer, and friend.