The Problem of John’s Deathbed Conversion

JohnAs a hospice nurse, I witness good people selflessly caring for the dying. These kind souls became my role models as I tried to follow the spiritual guideposts of Jesus’ commandments. I aspired to emulate their loving actions–the good works–I saw in them.

Then I heard about John. I was shocked by his death-bed change of heart. It was a paradox for me–I couldn’t get past its startling conclusion.

John was an abusive, hard-drinking, club-hopping coal miner. His wife, Mary, was a devout Christian and his loving caregiver. As he succumbed to lung disease, John asked Mary to share her faith with him. Then John became unresponsive, and Mary wondered if John understood or even heard her words.

As he breathed his last, John opened his eyes, looked at Mary, and said quite clearly, “I’m in heaven!”

Then he died.

John was like the prodigal son who was reconciled with his heavenly Father after years of hard living.

Great story . . . but I had a problem with it. Could someone betray his marriage vows, mistreat others, lead a mean-spirited life, repent with his final breath, and then be with the Lord? John had played it very close!

Researching the scriptures, I found a plethora of verses about judging others. The prevailing theme was summarized in Mathew 7:1-5: “Do not judge others or you will be judged.”

This similar but expanded verse from Luke 6:37 also spoke to me: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

More verses echoed our Lord Jesus’s words. Then I ready James 2:26: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

But, John didn’t have time for good deeds! How could he be alive in faith?

I realized I had no idea of John’s pain and suffering, his memories and experiences, the demons in John’s past that led him to his behavior. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul revealed the answer I was seeking: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Our heavenly Father loves all of his children. I could imagine his admonishment: “This is MY job! You children, just get along!”

Jesus reminds us, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Even More Happy EndingsJohn’s story has given me a new model for loving others. Beyond tolerance, which suggests a critical overlooking of another’s faults, I will try to open my heart to others who are different from me. I hope to become more generous with an unconditional love.

I am grateful to God for the lessons John taught me.

–by Lorna Bell RN, CHPN, in collaboration with Barbara Cliff, RN, PhD, CHPCA

Excerpts and story used with permission from Even More Happy Endings, page 41, “John’s Change of Heart.”

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