Last week, my mom (Ruth Moak Gerhardt) cast off her earthly body and began to live life more fully than ever before. I had the privilege of addressing nearly 400 of her family and friends, giving them a glimpse at the perspective of her son. On behalf of my two brothers, I shared a few stories and some of her bits of wisdom, just a fraction of the things that have served to mold us into the men we have become.
The three of us boys were blessed in that Mom and Dad adopted a model--common in that day but since fallen into disfavor--in which he worked (in service to other young families as a pediatrician), while she made a home. And in that homemaking, she saw it as job 1 to raise the next generation to be men of character. As I examine my brothers, I see that her hard work was well-rewarded.
I shared three specific things about Mom that made a lasting impression on me. The first was a love of God's creation, the stars, the Earth, the plants and animals. It was through her (and her father) that my brothers and I learned a love of the outdoors, of birds and insects, mammals, and snakes, of mountains and rivers and forests and deserts. (I shared the story of the summer garden party that was interrupted by the discovery that one of the snakes she had allowed me to bring home had given birth, as evidenced by the more than 60 3-inch-long snakelings making their way across the patio and yard.)
Secondly, her love of reading. She modeled reading for pleasure and reading for instruction, and counted among her treasury both a veritable library of P.G. Wodehouse books and a collection of classic (and deep) theological works. The latter she read over and over, underlining, highlighting, and parsing arguments, and indicating on the end pages the dates of each reading and the new insights gained. (As part of the college course that I teach on critical thinking, I share principles from Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book. These principles for getting the most out of reading were modeled in my own life by my mother.)
The third thing about which I shared--needlessly perhaps, since it was obvious to anyone who knew her at all--was the centrality to her life of a very real and vibrant personal relationship with her Lord and Savior. This, too, provided a model that has become a fundamental part of who I am. And in deciding to invest in her spiritual life, Mom did the right thing. Now, the earthly body that had so betrayed her in recent years has been discarded, and she--the soul in which her eternal person resides--is no longer encumbered by a body and brain that no longer served her well.
I know that it has become sophisticated to deny the existence of the soul. This is because many modern scientists adopt--without logical or scientific justification--the reductionist metaphysical view known as scientific materialism. Nonetheless, evidence and reason overwhelmingly support the view (also laid out in Scripture) that we are souls who have (during our tenure on Earth) bodies. The existence of the human soul as an entity that transcends our bodies and brains is supported by common sense (and the total human experience), by a variety of logical/philosophical arguments, and by the relevant evidence from science. The strongest of the latter comes from experiments and anecdotal evidence in the field of neurophysiology and from near-death experiences. Near-death experiences include numerous well-documented cases in which a person's heart and brain have ceased working (and they are declared clinically dead), they have been brought back to life, and can accurately describe in great detail independently verifiable events (elsewhere than the hospital room) that their soul witnessed during the interval in which their body and brain were dead.
In latter years, my mother's body no longer enabled her to get around and do things, and the strokes that had ravaged her brain kept her from focussing to read, from communicating or even thinking as clearly as she had in the past. When her earthly body breathed its last, Mom--the soul that is most truly her--was suddenly freed from the debilitations associated with that body and brain, and she is more truly living than she has ever lived before.
And so her friends and family celebrated her earthly life, but those of us who understand this life aright have even more cause to celebrate--the firm knowledge that her release from this life was to a better and an eternal life, purchased for her by her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.