As I Lay Dying

  For years "Tuesdays with Morrie" dominated the New York Times best-seller list. It became nothing less than a cult classic. I decided I had better read it because everybody was talking about it. And so I spent two of the most despairing nights of my life wading through the book. When I finished it, I felt uncomfortable for days. Tuesdays with Morrie records the slow death from Lou Gehrig's disease of Morrie, a professor at Brandeis University. One of his students learned of his illness, got in touch with him, and arranged to talk with him weekly. Morrie had no religious beliefs and the whole chronicle of death is a meaningless exercise-just pain and suffering. Now I know many people loved the book because they found the professor a heroic and sympathetic character. But it makes me wonder why we can enjoy reading about someone going through a slow agony? I felt the book was exploitive and the cheapest kind of sensationalism. To my mind, Tuesdays with Morrie is emblematic of existential despair. Riding to the rescue, like the cavalry of old, comes my friend Richard John Neuhaus who has an uncanny knack of speaking to the needs of modern American life. On January 10, 1993, Neuhaus collapsed in his apartment. While he had had stomach pains for over a year, the cancerous tumor was never diagnosed. That day it burst, and Neuhaus found himself camped at death's door for a year. He came within a whisker of dying, and everything that could go wrong did. But having recovered, miraculously, he's now written about the experience. Much of the book is Neuhaus's fascinating philosophical ruminations about death. But in the end he comes to the realization that he really doesn't have to worry about those things. Whether the personality or consciousness continues, or what form we are in, or what part of us survives are all interesting philosophical questions. But in the final analysis, lying on the bed, he came to realize that what matters is Jesus. "In the destiny of Christ is my destiny," he writes. "When I die, in His body, body and soul are reunited. The maggots should enjoy me while they can-they will not have the last word." We don't just wither away through terrible dehumanizing experiences like Morrie did. Life is not a cruel, mean hoax. Life is a gift from a loving and gracious God Who superintends our birth, life, and death. As the psalmist says, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15). Tuesdays with Morrie helped me understand why some people tragically want to take a pill and end it all, or why some become advocates of assisted suicide. (Who knows? Maybe that was the book's hidden agenda.) By contrast, reading As I Lay Dying made me feel exhilarated because, as a Christian, I have a great hope, expressed not in profound philosophical terms, but in simple intimacy with Jesus. It's the kind of book Christians can give to their secular friends. After all, everybody thinks about dying. If you've read Tuesdays with Morrie, I hope you'll now read As I Lay Dying. You'll see two worldviews in stark contrast, and you'll see the hope of the Gospel shining bright in the dark passage of life each one of us will one day walk. For further reading: Richard John Neuhaus, As I Lay Dying: Meditations upon Returning (Basic Books, 2002). Richard John Neuhaus is the editor-in-chief of First Things, the Journal of Religion and Public Life. Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson (Doubleday, 1997). The Wilberforce Forum has released its 2002 Summer Reading List -- recommended classic and contemporary, fiction and non-fiction, for children, youth, and adults. Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live without God? (Word Books, 1994).


Chuck Colson


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