Can death bring eternity

"I will see my daughter again in eternity"

Nikolaus Schneider, President of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland (EKiR), about the dying of his youngest daughter, death and eternity: an idea interview

Founding our lives on Jesus: President Nikolaus Schneider (left) and his wife Anne in conversation with Dr. Lars Tutt from the Rhenish Media Association at the Kirchentag in summer in Hanover.

The church year ends with Eternity Sunday on November 20th (a new one begins on the 1st of Advent). This Sunday is popularly known as “Sunday of the Dead”. Many people think of those who died around them. But only 45 percent of Central Europeans believe in life after death, according to surveys. On dying, death and eternity, an interview with the President of the second largest German regional church, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, Nikolaus Schneider (58, Düsseldorf). He also belongs to the leadership of the EKD, the council. On February 3 of this year, the youngest of his three daughters, Meike, died at the age of 22. At the end of her first semester of theology, she learned that she had leukemia. She fought against this blood cancer for two years. On November 20, the first television program at 5.30 p.m. reports on them in a program of the series “God and the World”. Helmut Matthies spoke to President Schneider.

idea: Mr. Preses, your daughter had to suffer a long time before she died. Did you think differently about dying before?

Schneider: I accompanied my father as he died and as a parish priest I sat at many deathbeds. But when your own child dies, it is a bit more than when you die yourself. We had prayed for healing many times and again and again had the impression that this prayer had been answered. Both after chemotherapy and then after the spinal cord transplant, it was said that she was cured. But after only five weeks the cancer returned.

"I now have some questions for God"

idea: Does that damage the image of God?

Schneider: Of course, this picture has been scratched. I now have a few questions for God: Why did he let our daughter die when he was only 22 years old? He would have had the power to heal her! Why did he allow this up and down? On the other hand, the fundamental relationship with God is not called into question. On the contrary: We are also grateful for the bad times, because we have experienced a depth in the relationship with our daughter, within our family and also with God that would otherwise have been unimaginable. We received unexpected powers, but also exactly the right words inside us that helped us to cope.

When you are declared "healed" twice

idea: Did your daughter know that she was going to die?

Schneider: Inside, I think, yes, although she fought for her life up to her last conscious moment. It was like a roller coaster ride: healed - relapse - healed - relapse. Of course, this also raised questions about their relationship with God. The time until her death was a struggle to experience God's closeness. Especially the experience of Jesus on the cross described in the New Testament became her consolation: that God is not a distant God, but in Jesus Christ our depths, our despair, our helplessness and our pains - she also had considerable pains during therapy - knows. Jesus, too, had experienced moments of distance from God in his life. She was able to experience that God is there for her in her suffering. But she was certain that after death she would be safe in God's arms.

idea: So she was consciously a Christian?

Schneider: It is a great gift for us that our three daughters have not distanced themselves from faith in Christ through the experience of the rectory. On the contrary: everyone deals with the faith and is connected to the church.

Nobody ever actually wished to die faster

idea: There is currently a broad debate about euthanasia. Has your daughter ever expressed a wish to be helped to die faster?

Schneider: It didn't occur to her at all. But she also enjoyed excellent pain therapy. That was a good help.

idea: As a pastor, have you ever seen sick people express the wish to be able to die more quickly because of their suffering?

Schneider: No. Ultimately, it was always a yes to the inevitable and then
also a comforted transition.

I am no longer afraid of dying

idea: After experiencing the death of your daughter so intensely: You can
die easier even now?

Schneider: Ever since I accompanied people dying as a parish priest, I have no longer been afraid.

idea: why not?

Schneider: Because I saw that it was possible. It is a great privilege for pastors to be able to accompany people as they die. Because then they can experience how to die. That one can take stock of things, say goodbye to others and that the Holy Scriptures have wonderful texts and images ready for this, which give hope for the afterlife in the presence of God.

idea: What is the most impressive biblical image for you?

Schneider: I think especially of the word of Jesus: "I go ahead to prepare an apartment for you in my father's house ... You shall be where I am" (John 14.1 ff) or of what is in Revelation John says: "And God will (in eternity) wipe away all the tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, neither will there be more suffering, nor outcry, nor pain" (21: 4).

She died in our arms

idea: How did your daughter go home?

Schneider: When the doctor told us that the time had come, she was in an intensive care unit in Essen. Our whole family and her aunt have been with her for the last five hours. We prayed and sang together. And then she went home in mine and my wife's arms.

idea: Has your daughter made arrangements for your funeral?

Schneider: She said which pastor she wanted and that the Bible texts should be determined by hope.

She wanted a big funeral

idea: There has been a trend for a long time that funerals take place “in silence” - that is, in the smallest possible framework. What did your daughter wish for?

Schneider: A really big funeral! She wanted everyone who belongs to us and who took part in her suffering to be there. Anyone who says you should do this in the smallest of circles doesn't know what you're doing to yourself with it. Because dying is such a powerful process that you need a lot of friends and siblings in the Christian faith to accompany and comfort you. Dying and death are always a matter for the entire church.

idea: What experiences have you had here that could be helpful for others?

Schneider: The first is that you shouldn't “run away” from your own death and that of others. We often have a completely wrong idea here, namely that it is all just terrible. But those who accompany others as they die also become richer inside. Tears and sadness can be good. Above all, however, we must not forget that as Christians we have a common hope, namely that we will come together again in the kingdom of God. And what is said about it in the New Testament should be brought to mind to oneself and to the dying man. Then we can pass this situation.

What to do with the dying

idea: What does that mean in concrete terms?

Schneider: You should find out what favorite songs the dying man had in the hymn book and then sing them with him. You can read the beautiful Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) or Psalm 139, which says that God surrounds us on all sides. In any case, one should pray the Our Father, lay hands on the dying man and bless him. In my experience, even in the very last few minutes, my lips moved with them. So the dying perceive this consolation consciously. For congregations it should become a rule that their clergy once offer an evening on the topic of “Accompanying the dying”, where questions are dealt with, how to behave, which songs and texts should be taken into account and which options are available to communicate to a dying person.

Dying atheists are also waiting to be asked about God

idea: What is it like when you don't know whether the dying person believes in God: Should you still address it aggressively?

Schneider: I would like to encourage you to always ask the question about God. Of course, one should do this in such a way that the other person is also free to say no. But it is often the case that the dying are waiting to be asked about God or whether one may pray with them. This also applies to atheists. Because they too come into question in dying and death. And there we have a great opportunity to help them.

"I want to die slowly"

idea: Many people wish to die suddenly and quickly. How would you like to die?

Schneider: Slowly. The quick death is a bad death because one cannot say goodbye. Death is a very important phase in our life, and if we cannot help shape it, then we and our loved ones are missing something crucial.

idea: Do you have the hope of seeing your daughter again in eternity?

Schneider: Of course, because that is also clearly stated in the New Testament, for example in 1st Corinthians in Chapter 15. Then in the Gospel of John (chapter 14) we have the farewell speeches of Jesus, in which he tells us very clearly that we will be with him one day in eternity.

idea: Did you talk to your daughter about it?

Schneider: That was always an issue. Besides, I talk about it at all funerals.

What happens after death

idea: In the New Testament there are two lines of statement with a view to eternity. According to one, after death we “sleep” until we are raised again for the Last Judgment (John 11:11; 1. Th. 4.15 ff, 1. John 3.2) . According to other passages one can assume that immediately after death we will be with Christ in eternity, for example when Jesus says to the thief on the cross: "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23: 4).

Schneider: We actually have both, whereby the statement Jesus made to the thief on the cross convinced me the most. But in the end I can only say here: Let's wait and see how it turns out. It is crucial that we as Christians are allowed to know that we will be with Christ one day in eternity. I am looking forward. And I have a certain longing in me to see my youngest daughter there again.

It can lead us to hell

idea: From a purely statistical point of view, the New Testament speaks more of hell than of heaven. What does hell mean to you?

Schneider: That our life is not insignificant, but has consequences, that God will pass judgment on it at the Last Judgment. And this judgment can lead us into the abyss, that is, to hell. Of course, I have the hope that God's grace will be greater than anything I can imagine. But I cannot assume that.

idea: Now, in Jesus' speech to his disciples, it says that the criterion for whether I will go to heaven is that I confess to Jesus Christ in front of others (Matt. 10:32) ...

Schneider: We can only base our lives on Jesus Christ alone. Indeed, that is what we stand on, and it must be clearly proclaimed.

If I only had one more day to live

idea: If you only had one day left to live: what would you do?

Schneider: I would apologize to everyone that I hurt, that I treated unfairly or thoughtlessly. If possible, I would then try to sit down with as many people as possible. I would say goodbye to my loved ones and especially to my wife with tears and sadness. At the same time, I would thank God for my life. But I would also like to express the joy that I am now entering the eternal kingdom of God, and I hope to see many of those with whom I have lived here again one day.

idea: Thank you for the interview.




idea / 11/18/2005

Note: This is an archived article from Wednesday, November 16, 2005. It was last updated on Friday, November 18, 2005. In principle, we do not change archive articles, individual information and links may be out of date.


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