The dying American girl and hope of heaven
THE concept of heaven is a point of convergence for all the world’s major religions. It is believed to be the dwelling place of God and the ultimate destination of the faithful who meet certain conditions and please God. The point of divergence – a critical one – has to do with the kind of passport and visa required for entry into heaven.
For some of the religions, one only needs to believe in God and live a life that is pleasing to Him from that moment till departure from earthly life. The teachings about the nature and character of God on the one hand, and God’s expectations of mankind on the other, differ significantly from religion to religion.
Of the passport and visa requirements for heaven, Jesus in whom the Christians believe as both God and Saviour of the world, is unequivocal. He declared to His apostles and, by extension all those who profess faith in Him, in the sixth verse of the 14th chapter of John’s gospel: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through Me.” His declaration made over 2000 years ago was unprecedented and there has not been any other quite like it ever since.
In His teachings, Jesus gave the number one requirement for the journey to heaven as faith in God and acceptance of the divine plan for salvation which He came to execute through, His earthly ministry. To make heaven, one must believe in God, profess this belief, embrace the plan of salvation, live a holy life and love God and fellow humans. But while most of the religions espouse various doctrines of heaven, very few faithful actually look forward to making it there.
As the famous reggae star, Peter Tosh, sang “everybody wants to go heaven but nobody wants to die except Jesus.” A disappointed Master of Ceremony who was finding it hard to get his audience to applaud the high moments of a function deviced a funny but effective strategy. He urged the crowd to clap the number of years they wished to live with each clap representing an additional year. They just went on and on with even the elderly struggling to outclap younger folks.
Even among Christians, heaven is becoming a rare sermon topic in a generation where motivational talks and prosperity messages present a stronger appeal. Way back then in His earthly ministry, Jesus had wondered: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matt 16:26.
The case of Julianna – the dying five-year-old American girl is therefore worthy of celebration in a generation that is so afraid of death and cares little about heaven. Julianna is the daughter of Steve and Michelle Snow. Steve is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot who gave up his job partly to take care of terminally ill Julianna while Michelle is a neurologist. Julianna was born with a hard-to-diagnose incurable disease on August 25, 2010 as a second child to the couple.
According to excerpts from the mother’s blog, she and her husband noticed that at the age of nine months, Julianna could not sit up steadily. By her first Birthday, she could not stand, talkless walk. As the parents were to painfully discover, Julianna was suffering from “Chacot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, a neurodegenerative illness,” a hereditary condition where neurons in the brain and spinal cord are progressively destroyed. Julianna obviously inherited the disease from her father who had a very mild form of it only detected after suspicions over the origin of the little girl’s plight led in that direction.
The best experts in the U.S., and indeed the whole world, cannot save Julianna’s life. Thus far, she has been sustained through painful therapies of mechanically sucking mucus out of her lungs by passing a tube down her nose and throat. The doctors’ verdict: buy a little more time by continuing the painful therapy each time she is brought to the hospital or let her die quietly at home. Her chances of survival with the continuation of the therapy in the hospital are very slim and she may not survive a fresh attack. Whichever way, Julianna seems certain to die. The choice of whether to bring her again to hospital or leave her at home to die was left to the parents.
Next, the question had to be put to Julianna herself then aged four. Her mother asked her what she would prefer if she were to get very sick again: go back to hospital for more treatments or die at home. She chose to rather die at home and go to heaven. Now five, Julianna is more determined. After a series of clarifications on the implications of her choice of heaven over hospital by her mother, Julianna said she perfectly understood that further treatments could extend her life and give her more time with her family. She also understood that her parents would not be coming to heaven with her right away and that she would be going all by herself. Her valedictory: “Don’t worry. God will take care of me. He’s in my heart.”
Rather than wallow in self-pity, Steve and Michelle have been excellent parents and coaches to Julianna. At age four, they, like experienced counselors, had lovingly shared the consequences of choosing heaven over hospital without compelling her to decide otherwise. The decision was left to her and not manipulated to assuage the family’s sense of loss in event of her expected death. Her elder brother has also been prepared for the eventuality that his only sister may soon be gone for good.
They are even better prepared for Julianna’s eventual exit now that she is five and still resolved to go to her maker rather than suffer further pain. They have not inundated God with the questions of why all this is happening to Julianna and the family. Or why God would not heal her. Even in death as is most likely and perhaps imminent in Julianna’s case, God is already glorified in her faith and confidence in Him and choice of heaven over temporary earthly reprieve.
Julianna’s plight presents many profound lessons for an increasingly godless world about faith in God and the certainty of heaven and hell. Julianna did not choose her parents and what to inherit from either or both of them.
No one ever does despite the advances in reproductive science. No one has a complete choice of what life may bring. But everyone has a choice of how to respond to the challenges of life. Everyone has a choice of where to spend eternity. It is not enough to believe that heaven and hell exist. It is more important to make and sustain a conscientious choice.
God has spoken loudly and clearly through pains in both ancient and contemporary times and may just be speaking one more time through five-year-old Julianna. After all, it is written, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” 1 Cor 1:20. This is not the time to weep for Julianna and her family, it is time to choose wisely about eternity.