An escape from death

Faith & Inspiration | A visit to the ER serves as a stark reminder of keeping your vows of obedience
by Andrée Seu Peterson
Posted on Thursday, July 28, 2016, at 1:36 pm

I ended up in the hospital emergency room a couple of weeks ago. This time I forewent the $1,200 out-of-pocket ambulance ride of 2002 infamy and drove myself. I rather wish now I had stayed at home, for the symptoms only mimicked cardiac failure. But it was not altogether without value to inhabit for a week the perspective of someone believing she is soon to leave this world.

It is I, after all, who have been praying Psalm 90: “Teach me to number my days, that I may get a heart of wisdom.” And if it was a pricy tutorial, God is not shook up at all about the price; it’s only me.

I had the presence of mind—nausea, weakness, left arm and back ache notwithstanding—to bring along a Bible, knowing what emergency wards are like. I knew there are a few key words that are like magic at ER reception desks, like “chest pains” and “stroke,” but also that after a quick VIP escort there would be waiting in a curtained cubicle.

I decided to start with Matthew and read only the red letters, though I once disdained the practice. I had watched a dozen “one for Israel—I met Messiah” testimonies of Jews on YouTube, and most of the converts claimed that when they finally cracked a New Testament they couldn’t believe how Jewish Jesus sounded. I wanted to hear that sound.

So in my enforced captivity (and since my mobile phone had no bars) I reclined in my hospital gown and perused. Bible verses smote me afresh. Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” What an odd statement and proof of hell’s power over men—the very idea that anyone would persecute someone for being good! Verse 18: “Until heaven and earth pass away,” Jesus says by way of introduction, and no one interrupts Him to say, “What! What are you talking about, man? Everyone knows this rock is solid and eternal.” They all could see back then, before Edwin Hubble, that the earth would end one day.

How does one explain the sudden expectation that one does not have another 30 years after all, but maybe 30 days? The very trees look different. They seem to pull away from you and say you don’t belong here anymore.

How does one explain the sudden expectation that one does not have another 30 years after all, but maybe 30 days?

But what I savor is the instant fear of God that imminent mortality affords. You see acutely just how sloppy you’ve been living, what indulgence to the flesh you have allowed, all excused by saying, “I’m a sinner and can’t help it.” Now, it turns out, you may meet your Maker momentarily. Let’s see how your excuses will fly then! Will God say at your rendezvous: “I never knew you; depart from me”?

And so I made some vows about my life if He should let me live.

But then good news from the doctor: Expectations of my death are premature. Admirable EKG, probably just nerve pain, the nausea coincidental. I climb back into my street clothes and walk out into the sunshine and the very trees look different once again. It’s like the Confederate Civil War prisoner on the morning of his hanging at an Alabama gallows in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1962), when the rope somehow snaps and he plunges into the racing river rather than doing a dangling dance. And when he emerges from the water he looks around and sees the rustling leaves and hears the chirping birds, with crispness and acuteness he has never known.

The residue of a postponement at the gallows is zeal to keep those vows—a tongue controlled, a heart wide open. In this I follow the Psalmist: “I will perform my vows to you, that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble” (Psalm 66:13-14).

Not to be a spoiler, but the condemned man at Owl Creek, Mr. Farquhar, having swum from Union infantrymen bullets and reveling in his freedom, as he raced home to a tender Southern belle on a veranda, just before he falls in her embrace is jerked back from her arms. Next we see him dangling from the railroad bridge.

For all escapes from death are a reprieve.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.

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  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Thu, 07/28/2016 09:35 pm

    This is really good, and thank God you're okay. The prisoner escaping from The Gallows is a classic scene that has stuck with me for many many years. One reason why that scene is so memorable is because it shows how fast the mind can think, in an instant. We do that all the time, in fear, and with great vision about doing great things in the world.


    But most of the time my wife takes my idea instantly to The Gallows.


    I thought, based on the subtitle, that you were going to describe the misery of human sin that is found in an emergency room. I was there recently for my mother-in-law's stroke, and I found it distressing to see the State of Affairs among those in the emergency room at 11 o'clock at night

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sun, 08/14/2016 05:45 am

    I enjoyed your comment William Peck 1958.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sun, 08/14/2016 05:45 am

    Thank you for your persistent search for truth and insights. A lovely and challenging article. I always enjoy them. There is truth in what you write, which is always good to see and ponder. But to see truth packaged in the way you are able is a reminder to me of the great God who gives these gifts to us. The great God of the instantaneous thoughts, the one who gives us a past and present and future is somehow of the ER waiting room and is so often found in the hour of need that is encountered there. 

    As someone who has been involved in health care for nearly 45 years, much of this hospital and even ER based, I echo your sentiments. One need to only spend a short time there to be reminded of human depravity. I am often reminded of this on morning rounds in the beautiful hospital where I work when I walk into a room and am accosted by the filth on TV. I'm sure there are great stories to be written about the way just the sound from the TV can change the atmosphere. And as I always reach over to mute the TV the resulting change is remarkable. 

    But you write about more than that, the God of eternity who is found in these moments, somehow makes, the pain, the sadness, bearable and even allows us to grow and learn and see life anew. We need those fresh insights. Thank you.