I heard this story from another Lutheran pastor. I will tell it as I remember it, filling in the conversation a bit as I go– but this was the gist of it.
A middle-aged woman was dying of cancer in a big city hospital. She received no visitors, and she was not accepting her fate very well. She wept day and night, and sometimes her loud cries could be heard down the hall at the nurses station. The nurses tried to help by offering her a sedative, but she did not want that. The nurses offered to call the hospital chaplain, and the woman did agree to that.
The chaplain came in and asked the woman if he could help her. She said, “I will soon be dead, and then what is next for me pastor? I am a terrible person, and I am afraid of going to hell.” Being careful not to offend her religious beliefs, he asked about her church background. She said, “I have no church background. I was baptized, and my parents dragged me to church for a few years, but that was it. I never believed in much of anything, but I have heard about hell, and I know that is where I am going.”
“Well,” said the pastor, “I can assure you, God is a God of love, and God loves you and accepts you, just the way you are. You have nothing to fear.” She stopped crying, listened quietly, and said no more. Finally, the pastor said a brief prayer and left the room. He told the nurses that he thought the woman would all right now, and they thanked him for his visit.
But the woman was not all right, and was soon crying as much as before. She made no complaints to the nurses, and was not asking anyone for anything; but it saddened the nurses to see her so distraught. They asked the dying woman if they should call the chaplain in for another visit. She said, “No, don’t call him back.” (continued…)
Psalm 51:3 — For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Lamentations 3:19-20 — I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Hebrews 9:27 — …It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that to face judgment.
Ah Lord, my prayers are dead, my affections dead, and my heart is dead: but you are a living God and I commit myself to you. Amen. –William Bridge