"So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" Philippians 2:12
Matthew Bassford is a gospel preacher. You have probably seen his name before, as he is also a prolific author of hymns. A couple of his more popular hymns we have sung at Danville are "Exalted," and "Strong and Courageous." More recently, you may have seen some of his writings on Facebook. Matthew Bassford is in the late stages of ALS. In what little time he has left in this life, Mr. Bassford is doing all he is able to encourage others to devote themselves to living faithfully to Jesus Christ. In the article below, he shares his personal experience, offering a valuable and heartfelt perspective on his journey, as well as our own.
Yesterday was not a good breathing day for me. As I was taking my evening pills, some of the water went down the wrong pipe and caused a bronchospasm. It wasn't a bad one as such things go; I could still breathe somewhat and never felt like I was going to die. However, the experience still was not one to celebrate.
The night brought its own challenges. I can no longer turn over in bed, so I sleep only on my back. I used to be able to turn my head from side to side, but now when my head is turned, it constricts my airway so much that I struggle to breathe.
Consequently, my night followed a dreary pattern. I would drift off to sleep facing the ceiling. After I fell asleep, my head would slump to the side. I would wake up fighting for breath, but after I held my head upright for a while, my breathing would settle down. I would relax, go back to sleep, and begin the cycle again. I endured this for as long as I could, but about 5:30, I woke up Lauren and had her exchange my pillow for a neck pillow that kept my head stable.
I know that these problems will only get worse. Indeed, I most likely will die because I can't breathe anymore. I'm cheering for CO2 narcosis, which is a fairly kind way to go gentle into that good night. However, I may simply suffocate.
I've been thinking a lot recently about Pascal's Wager. In essence, Pascal argued that it is better to be a believer than an unbeliever because of the consequences of each choice. If you are a believer and are wrong, you die the same death as the unbeliever, who will never even know that he was right. On the other hand, if you reject God and are wrong, your mistake will cause you to suffer eternally in hell.
Here, as I so often do these days, I have come to experientially grasp something that I always have believed was true. Jesus warns us not to fear those who can destroy the body. Instead, we must fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.
I'm willing to face death. It's not like I have a choice anyway, and I think that by the time I die, dying will seem better than living to me. I'm reassured that the capacity of the human body to endure suffering is finite. I will only have to put up with late-stage ALS for so long.
Hell, though? The thought sets my teeth on edge. I really, really, really don't want to go to hell.
The Bible offers us several different ways to understand the experience of hell. Hell is darkness. Hell is fire. Hell is worms.
I have a new yardstick now. How about hell as not being able to breathe? For me, hell is a bronchospasm, a bad one, that goes on and on because you don't get to die. At that thought, I feel the fear of God in my very bones.
All of us have one shot to avoid that unthinkable fate. We cannot save ourselves by being good people, by heaping up good works that show that we don't deserve to go to hell. Instead, our only hope lies in faithfulness to Christ.
These days, I don't have much interest in bargaining with Jesus. I don't want to figure out how little faithfulness I can get away with. Games like that belong to people who don't really understand suffering, don’t really think they're going to die, and don't really get what is at stake. Such illusions are a luxury I can no longer afford.
Instead, I serve Him with the tenacity of the desperate. Whatever He asks, fine. Whatever He wants, fine. I am not going to ask impertinent questions like why I must suffer so, or how a loving God can condemn sinners to hell. I will cling to Him with hands, arms, legs, teeth, toenails, everything I've got. Hell is that terrifying, and the salvation from hell that He offers is that great.
by Matthew Bassford