God Knows: Our Beginning and End When We Don’t Know

Distinguished former Rhodes scholar and PM Bob Hawke, now 86, has recently become an advocate for euthanasia, even for teens. Mr Hawke fears the indignity of ‘losing his marbles’ – desperately trying to keep it at bay with crosswords and Sudoku. He told pro-euthanasia media activist Andrew Denton that his second wife, Blanche d'Alpuget, knows what to do when he degenerates to that state.

Mr Hawke knows something of what he fears - his first wife Hazel succumbed to dementia after they divorced. As Michael Cook wrote very directly (‘Losing One’s Marbles’, BioEdge, 16 April 2016):

Dementia must be terrifying for people without adequate family support because of fractured relationships. And Mr Hawke, sadly, fractured his in a very public way by divorcing his first wife Hazel … to marry his biographer, Ms d'Alpuget. … Eventually [Hazel] entered a nursing home … for four years before her death. Mr Hawke was not there to help her. Dementia is a disability and a civilised society does not solve the problem of disability by killing the disabled. The real indignity comes when the ‘abled’ neglect their responsibility to care for the weak and vulnerable.

Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, voluntary euthanasia statistics from the Netherlands are overwhelmingly of women, not just because they live longer, but because they are the carers, and there is so often no one to care for them.

Australian anti-euthanasia campaigner Paul Russell observed that ‘losing my marbles’ is a kind of vilification of patients with dementia. Hawke ‘is saying, in a shorthand way, that he doesn't want to be like them. It is a pejorative; an unwelcome slight that reinforces discrimination’. This reinforces avoidance of ‘them’ as they remind us of how we might be one day (Michael Cook, ‘Former Australian PM Bob Hawke backs euthanasia’, BioEdge, 15 April 2016).

People are not marbles, nor are they mere minds. Marbles as a metaphor are like much modern atomistic, individualistic philosophy. We bounce off each other, essentially intact, independent, knowing, choosing individuals, in a highly rationalistic sense. But the Bible, theology and the best philosophy and socio-biology remind us that we are relational beings – ‘dependent rational animals’, to use Alasdair MacIntyre’s term.

It is in this contested context of the allegedly essential rational nature of humanity, and the common denial of the relational nature of our elderly, that I examine key biblical, ethical and pastoral themes concerning divine knowing, naming and calling of us. This is in contrast to an ethically and pastorally damaging over-emphasis on our rational knowledge having a monopoly on meaning that often lies behind the push towards euthanasia and our dread of a long, slow dying.

Our ‘in a glass darkly’ knowledge by faith, before our knowledge of God finally becomes ‘face to face’, should impose greater modesty about our moral and psychological labelling. I will use biblical, theological, ethical, psychological and biographical resources to explore the madness of our self-justifying morality and the way this stigmatises those to a greater or lesser degree along the spectrum of mental impairment.

Biblical Knowing and Being Known

Billy Connolly reminds us that ‘we live in a world of strangers, even to ourselves’:

He who has never eaten his bread with tears,
He who has never, through nights of anguish, sat weeping on his bed – such a man does not
Know you, you heavenly Powers.
(From Billy, by Pamela Stephenson, in J.W. Goethe, ‘Harp Player’, English transl., This Quarter, 4, 1932)

And Bonhoeffer’s great poem ‘Who am I?’, with its tortured twisting between others’ knowledge of us and our own, concludes: ‘Which one am I, what other men say or what I feel? You know O God, You know’. I want to reflect upon this neglected truth of God’s knowing and naming of us from womb to tomb, through growing and declining mental acuity.

My interest in this is partly because of my father’s dementia, deteriorating Parkinson’s disease and a major stroke. He is now in a nursing home in Sydney. At the other end of life, we have watched our first grandchild develop, on the pregnancy app and ultrasounds. It was truly a womb with a view. What is the view we have of God at the very beginning, or better what is a God’s-eye view of us? Genesis, Exodus and the Psalms give us a scriptural lens for God’s never-ending knowing of us, across ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’.

From Genesis on, our knowing of God is always secondary and responsive to God’s knowing of us. Hence Bonhoeffer can say that:

The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge. Contrary to humanity’s origin in knowing only God, and ‘all things only in God’ … we know ourselves now as something apart from God, outside God, and this means that we know only ourselves and no longer know God at all. (Ethics, SCM, 1955, 3)

In treating issues at the extremes of so-called normal rationality, from womb to tomb, we need to start with God’s knowledge of us. For there is no independent ethical norm or psychological normal outside of that transcendent, thoroughly truthful knowing, to which we are transparent. As I’ve often testified, from the time I first read the Bible, it read me.

This is because there is no neutral or naked way we can be known, post-Fall (Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall). All our knowing and being known on the human horizontal level is framed by our fallenness. We can only be naked before the penetrating gaze of God. As Dylan sings: ‘Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked’. But in the fallen context of our and others’ untrue and untrusting knowing, we are clothed mercifully by God. Attempts by human beings to jump into bed naked epistemologically with each other should be resisted. True knowing can only come in the context of covenantal commitment, and when we and the other are conscious of being clothed in our finitude, fallenness and fragility, by God’s manifold mercy.

Not only creation and fall frame our knowing, but so does redemption, in Exodus. Exodus births Israel’s redemptive history, and develops a difficult dialectical tension between God’s faithful knowing and our unfaithful human knowing. But God’s knowing always has us on the hop. God astounds Moses in Exodus 3 by appearing in incendiary form in the burning bush. He makes himself known by a new name, Yahweh, and a new description beyond all human definition: ‘I am who I am’. This God beyond gods, who overwhelms and overflows the ontological ‘omni-s’ (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence) with which we try to capture him, knows the ‘misery’ of their slavery; and in the ‘I am’ of the God-Man Christ, as the spiritual has it, ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus’. God also knows ahead of time the hardness of human hearts: ‘I know that the King of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand’ (v.19). Similarly, Jesus ‘knew what was in everyone’ and would not entrust himself to the fickle Pharaohs of the human heart, impressed instantly but inconstantly by his miracles (John 2:25).

Known, Named and Called

More positively, God knows the potential of people grasped by his promises. As in all prophetic call narratives, after the initial revelation comes Moses’ confession of insufficiency. Despite his royal pedigree and Egyptian training, he doesn’t have the gift of the gab. Perhaps he was a stutterer. God can tame the tremors in our tongues, and in Job 28 style he asks a series of rhetorical questions of Moses: ‘Who makes [or allows] any ability or disability, of any sense? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak’ (Ex 4:10-15). The Creator God knows us better than we know ourselves. As Karl Barth says:

Who of us knows himself … as God knows him and therefore as he really is? … An authoritative and reliable light is shed … only by the calling in which he is authentically addressed and claimed by his Creator and Lord …. And in the light of this calling he will not merely find himself summoned to be what he is; he will find himself summoned as the one he is to new existence and action. (Church Dogmatics III/4, T & T Clark, 1961, E.T., 625)

The biblical calling and re-calling narratives, where the call-ee is often re-named, are particularly significant for being known by God. Think Abram becoming Abraham, father of many nations, and Simon becoming Peter the Rock. Bath again:

Saul as the one he is and has been has to become Paul. … He must let himself be wrested from any passion for his previous existence. He is invited to a journey to new harbours in which he will again be himself … in a new form, perhaps becoming a source of astonishment not only to others but even to himself. (Church Dogmatics III/4, 625)

We might mockingly ask ‘what’s in a name?’. But names and being known by name, with their connotations of character, are crucial to our identity. Elvis Costello illustrates this well in Veronica about an aunt in a nursing home:

Veronica sits in her favorite chair
She sits very quiet and still
And they call her a name that they never get right
And if they don't then nobody else will
But she used to have a carefree mind of her own
With devilish look in her eye
Saying, ‘You can call me anything you like
But my name is Veronica’
Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes
Veronica has gone to hide?
And all the time she laughs at those
Who shout her name and steal her clothes
Veronica, Veronica, oh, Veronica

(http://www.songlyrics.com/elvis-costello/veronica-lyrics/#bkEmzuvsLDqEZlfB.99)

The significance of calling or naming struck me as I read former psychiatric nurse John Swinton’s 2012 magnum opus, Dementia: Living in the Memories of God. His poignant story of a Scottish gentleman called Gordon resonated with me beyond the coincidental name: his sorry situation might be mine one day. In a section titled ‘My Friend Gordon’s dilemma: Losing and Finding One’s Self’, Swinton describes the time when, after Gordon was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Swinton and his wife got together for a meal with him and his wife and friends. Swinton’s writes: ‘I noticed that the conversation was flowing around Gordon; people were talking around and about him, but not to him’ – just as Helmut Thielicke describes the snake’s ruse in the garden as being to get us to talk about God, objectifying him in the third person, not to him. Swinton continues, self-critically: ‘Gordon was somewhere else. He was surrounded by his closest friends, and yet he was deeply alone’ [not ‘known’, in our theme’s terms]. We could have slowed down, taken time to include him, but we didn’t’ – partly through not noticing, partly through thinking ‘It’s just the Alzheimer’s, isn’t it?’, as if that absolves all claim of his identity upon us.

Despite his wife’s heroic efforts, Gordon was taken into full-time care. In Swinton’s borrowed terms, he was malignantly and instantly repositioned. ‘He went from being a husband, father, friend, and parishioner to a ‘client’ or ‘patient’. He knew it, and he didn’t like being cared for by strangers from the developing world’ (Swinton, 100), even if they might have more respect for the elderly. Mutual fear and incomprehension arise.

These strangers call him Gordon, like his friends, when as a highly trained teacher he’s used to being called Mr Torrance. And when he breaks the rules and tries to get home, he’s treated as if he knows nothing. While his church regularly prays for the sick, he’s only been publicly prayed for once in 5 years. ‘Dementia is different’. ‘It seems that Gordon’s forgetfulness has led to his being forgotten’. Friends say: ‘What’s the point of visiting if he won’t know who I am?’ So they don’t go to see if he will (Swinton, 101). In Facebook terms Gordon has been effectively ‘defriended’. As Janelle Taylor writes:

It appears that middle-class U.S. friendships are not generally expected to bear the weight of deep and diffuse obligations to care. More like pleasure crafts than life rafts, they are not built to brave the really rough waters – and these are rough, bitter, corrosive waters indeed. Dementia seems to act as a very powerful solvent on many kinds of social ties. I doubt that many friendships survive its onset. (‘On Recognition, Caring, and Dementia’, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 22 (4), 319)

While Gordon’s internalised first sense of self in the present moment seems intact, his second self, or his temporary and enduring roles, have been turned topsy-turvy. But his third sense of self - recently acquired attributes or capacities or incapacities - sees him feeling, in the eyes of others, burdensome, of little worth, violent, awkward, non-compliant, no longer spiritual, unattractive, invisible, alienated. Yet, for Swinton, this third sense of self ‘doesn’t belong to the individual; it belongs to the community … [and] any diminution of the self is first and foremost a diminution of community’ (106)a form of social erosion that eats away the soil of flourishing relationships and friendships, and of the long build-up and sandstone-like sedimentation of the self formed by layer upon layer of calling and being called, named in nasty and numinous ways, in personal and professional parlance (see Alistair McFadyen, The Call to Personhood, 1990). You are what you are called (see my 'You are What You are Called: Trinity, Self & Vocation', in S. Hale & S. Bazzana eds, Towards a Theology of Youth Ministry, 1998).

Combine this with what we know about the plasticity of the brain, at many stages, and we can see that for all the biological basis of dementia, dementia is not a merely deterministic process. Even as sensitive a novelist as Jonathon Franzen, in his grief for his father’s dementia, is forced within our society’s terms to dilute his grief and his relational responsibilities by seeing it as an inevitable, deterministic, mechanistic process that diminishes his father’s personhood and particularity. As Swinton notes: ‘Dementia emerges out of a complicated dialectical interaction between neurological impairment and interpersonal [and linguistic] processes’ (107). Add our increasing awareness of brain plasticity, and the deterministic picture looks overly determined.

Known by God, womb to tomb

The shaping of people’s identity or sense of self comes ultimately from being known by God, even in the womb, as Psalm 139 shows. We prayed each day for our first grandchild in the womb (whom we nick-named Phoebe-foetus), now born and known as Caspian. Caspian’s sense of self comes from all those things he has been called, as we called and call upon the name of the Lord and upon his knowing and seeing, even where ultrasounds can’t see.

This process of identity shaped by being known continues beyond our genetics, socially and linguistically, as we’re called all sorts of things – beautiful, ugly, smart, stupid etc. But we can get lost in that linguistic fog, sometimes failing to see and hear God’s eternally wooing womb-like love (from which the word for compassion comes in Hebrew). This longs and calls us into being, despite the ‘call of the mall’ branding our very corporeal and bodily sense of self with inhumane images, and savage peer review distorting our own sense of being God’s images.

So given, as we’ve noted earlier, how significant figures in God’s purpose are re-called or re-named by God in the light of his character and purpose imprinted upon them, our calling as God’s people is to re-parent, and mercifully but challengingly re-peer review, reminding each other of our delicate divine forming in the womb. We are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, names written like a love tattoo on the palms of his nail-scarred hands (Isaiah 49:16), sons and daughters and heirs, mature adult children, made to converse with God.

This relates to problematic labelling, that is, defining people by their defects - what Swinton calls ‘defectology’ and Kitwood calls ‘linguistic killing’ (111). Once defined, Ivan Illich’s ‘Disabling Professions’, drug companies, panicking parents, identity groups and others can create a whole linguistic discourse that the person inhabits or is inhabited by.

On the night of my 60th birthday celebration my family sat around and had a vigorous discussion about what terms should be used for people with a mental illness, as you do. My wife, who trains carers of those with mental illness, sees her industry’s preference of ‘consumer’ as empowering and active. My psychiatrist son-in-law, like me, sees ‘patient’ as fine, if we counter the passivity that the ‘consumer’ advocates see in that term. My social worker daughter sees ‘client’ as OK, while my son, a remarkable recovery case from bipolar disorder, couldn’t care less, as long as people see beyond the labels to the person.

Memories and Personhood

Shock treatment has had a bad name, made notorious in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It has no doubt improved since the day my mother had it for two nervous breakdowns when I was entering adolescence. And I acknowledge with psychiatrist John White’s Masks of Melancholy that it may sometimes be a last resort. But use needs to be carefully limited given the loss of memories, which my mother experienced, as well as her general inability to cry. My fondest memory of Mum is of her loving tears when I, a few years later and hell-bent on a professional soccer career, missed out by one point on the NSW State under-16 team. As I tried to tough it out, Mum’s now-rare tears gave me - generally an easy crier - permission to weep.

How is healing to come without weeping, and weeping without memory? Hence the significance of Swinton’s subtitle ‘Living in the memories of God’, even when our memories are subjectively gone from us.

The euthanasia of a perfectly mentally and physically healthy Belgian woman because she’d lost her beloved daughter and was estranged from the other (who was not even notified of her mother’s impending death) raises questions regarding both the importance of memory to identity and the importance of not absolutising it, or reducing identity to our memories, rather than to God’s merciful memory of us, our loved ones and our enemies.

Even a proper emphasis on the person can become a form of cognitivism according to intellectual capacities, our knowing becoming more important than God’s. This is critical in relation to bioethical issues at both the beginning and end of life. In our individualised form of the progress myth, cognitive capacity is often used as the criterion for whether someone is still a person, making choices and having projects.

The language of persons is often too lame, lifeless and abstract. Think of the vexed gender language debates where I normally fall on the side of being more inclusive, in human language, not God language. But it still seems silly to speak of chairperson rather than chairman or chairwoman. We end up abstracting and objectifying away someone’s particularity that comes by naming. Stanley Hauerwas captures this wonderfully with his essay title ‘He May Not be Much of a Person, But He’s Still My Uncle Charlie’. Hauerwas’ insight is developed by Swinton in Dementia Ch. 5: ‘The Problem with Personhood: Why it Might not be such a good Idea for People to be Persons’. A culture ‘of hypercognition’ or ‘hypermemory’ ends up eviscerating the particular person and their story because they have lost the capacities we use to define persons as part of the public or political realm. ‘To have dementia is to lose one’s personhood’, to be treated as if dead. Such utilitarianism, seeing people as means to an end of their projects, is dangerous to the dignity of all. The quest for death with dignity often denies the Christian doctrine of ‘alien dignity’ – a dignity existing outside us in Christ.

Adulterated by Alzheimer’s

Our linguistic labels are often used to provide us with moral alibis. Adulterated language can lead to literal or symbolic adultery. Swinton cites the advice of a care worker to Elaine, Gordon’s wife, to divorce him, presumably because ‘he’s no longer the person you married’.

Similarly televangelist and former US Presidential candidate Pat Robertson caused controversy when responding to a caller whose friend’s wife ‘was deep into dementia and no longer recognised him. His wife as he knows her is gone’, and the friend is therefore ‘bitter at God … and now he’s started seeing another woman’.

Robertson made all the right non-directive therapeutic noises, but then said, ‘I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care, somebody looking after her’. With all the deftness of a liberal Pharisee like Hillel, Robertson noted the traditional vows ‘till death us do part’, but added the get-out clause, ‘this is a kind of death’ (E. Eckholm, ‘Robertson Stirs Passions With Suggestion to Divorce an Alzheimer’s Patient’, NY Times, 11 September 2011). So much for the majesty and dignity of ‘in sickness and in health, till death do us part’.

Marriage, Swinton notes, is not just about our knowing or not knowing the person anymore, or the quality of the relationship, but about how human marriage resonates with the divine prototype for marriage. God refuses to give up on Israel, as in Hosea 11, or on us, at the cost of death to himself.

Swinton worries that Robertson’s ‘healthy, wealthy and wise’ gospel, whereby we love only people who fit these categories, has eclipsed not only the marriage vows but also the test of discipleship come Judgement Day in Christ’s incognito presence in the weak and vulnerable (Mt 25:31-46). As Baptist pastor Russell Moore says, ‘somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she thinks he’s a stranger’. But Robertson’s view may not be unrepresentative of many Christians today.

Contrast another Robertson, the N.T. scholar and former President of Columbia Bible College Dr Robertson McQuilkan, who resigned to care for his wife who had Alzheimer’s. He said: ‘What else could I do to repay her for all she’d done for me for 40 years?’ (http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=7D7ZWNNX). I find this a daunting example as my beloved Susan and I soon celebrate our 40th anniversary.

I heard the story of McQuilkan being at an airport with his wife, who was incredibly restless, always getting up and going walkabout, being followed by her patient husband. A woman near them looked up from her laptop to hear McQuilkan apologising for disturbing her. She said ‘Oh no, I wasn’t disturbed, I was just thinking I hope I can one day find someone who would care for me like that’.

Yet such positive examples of male may be rare. For many men, it’s as if various forms and fears of mental diminishment – Alzheimer’s/dementia or mental illness - form an unstoppable avalanche, so we won’t or can’t stop for people like Gordon, or for wives and kids, to catch up, because the avalanche of Alzheimer’s might get us. In the movie Force Majeure, a couple with kids are on the balcony of a resort when an avalanche seems about to engulf their previously idyllic viewing position. The husband, ironically a cool Scandinavian, instinctively runs away, leaving wife and kids to fend for themselves, provoking a crisis in their marriage. No wonder many Dutch women prefer or accept pressure into ‘voluntary’ euthanasia to that kind of care.

More than Words

Still Alice is a book and movie about Dr Alice Howland, a leading linguistics academic, and her family engulfed by her early onset Alzheimer’s. As Tim Kroenert notes: ‘To lose language is for her no less than an existential horror’ (‘Linguist’s life and language lost to Alzheimer’s’, Eureka Street, 4 February 2015).

Alice’s husband seems sympathetic but seeking a quick cure, not the constancy of care. He misses her heart-rending, painstaking address about her illness to the Alzheimer’s Society as he’s going for a new job. He gets the job, a great opportunity, in up-state New York, and an insurance policy for when she is gone, mentally. He tells Alice, as if it’s a fait accompli, ‘It’ll be great, alone together’, like the Seekers’ sickly sentimentality, ‘We’ll build a world of our own that no-one else can share, all our sorrows we’ll leave far behind us there …’. But Alice is horrified, barely surviving in a place she knew intimately, with friends and loved ones, doctors and therapists. She feels like she’s losing everything she’s ever known, including herself. No wonder she had a back-up plan that, when she really lost certain memories and the language from which she derived her identity, she could end it all. She believes in nothing beyond her linguistically derived identity, the loss of which would scare me immensely also, as an aspiring wordsmith. But it’s neither her ultimate end nor mine, as the film itself hints.

John Bayley, in Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch (also a moving film), rightly argues, as much by caring action as by words, that the person Iris was not destroyed by dementia. But even here we need more than Iris’s own Platonic intellectual vision for virtue and the good (cf. Hauerwas’ Vision and Virtue, 1974, drawing on Murdoch). We need a God who knows us, who envisions us, and in whose steady, attentive gaze, we exist.

Known and Loved Eternally

The story is often told of Karl Barth, the 20th century’s greatest theologian, being asked by a cynical young student what was his greatest ever thought. Barth asserted ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so’. We are not the sum of our wavering cognitive capacities but of the constant capaciousness of God’s grace.

Contrary to the Delphi Oracle’s mantra ‘know thyself’, plastered over Apollo’s temple nearby, Sean McDonough reminds us:

God knows us before, during, and after the present moment. His knowledge of us is comprehensive, such that we need not worry that a part of our lives is missing before him. … God knew Jeremiah ‘before he was born’. This notion of ‘eternal knowing’ may seem esoteric, but is practically relevant … it is hard enough to reckon with the fact that our lives are a vapor [as in Ecclesiastes’ ‘vanity of vanities’], ready to vanish with the first blast of the sun. Even more threatening is the fact that this vapor was not even here a moment ago. It is some comfort to experience God’s present knowledge of me, to know that just now I am loved by him. But if God only knows me moment to moment, the threat of slipping out of his knowledge remains. … The only sure comfort lies in knowing that we are known in the eternal knowledge of God, which does not spoil or fade. (Sean McDonough, ‘When are we Known by God?’, The 2015 Ridley / Gordon-Conwell Theology Conference, Ridley College, 30/5/15).

In The Meaning of Marriage (2013), Tim Keller depicts being known by God and its occasional human analogues:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

To return to where we began. Bob Hawke, typical of many in our age, fearful of facing death’s reminder that we live out of control, sadly does not know this larger love of being known. He relies on an illusionary over-estimate of his own knowing for his very being. It is like a Greek tragedy, full of hubris, and it lies behind much of our culture’s drive towards euthanasia.

I do not desire to cheaply or cheerfully resolve difficult issues at either end of life, womb or nearing tomb. But to be known by God, beyond our mental capacities, is still the best comfort, covering grandchildren and great-grandparents.

In our secular society, this will not be argued from biblical or traditional authority, but is best demonstrated by pastoral authenticity. As I sit with my nearly 89-year-old Dad at his Catholic nursing home, we enjoy a performance of Sound of Music put on by the patients, some dressed with plastic garbage bags for nuns’ habits. Everyone glows and sings along. The hills are not the only things alive with the sound of music. Children from the local Catholic school enjoy the show, and maybe come to know that you can live to the last and be known by a love that lasts light-years, echoed by such authentic earthly care.

Soon after, so bound is Dad by Parkinson’s and by confronting frontal lobe damage that he is barely able to utter a sentence. I share the Book of Bill, made of photos I collected forming a partial narrative of his once active life as a businessman, sportsman and family man. I put on Dad’s taped collection of hymns, prayers and favourite biblical passages as I reluctantly leave him to return interstate, with reminders that he is known and loved, by more than me or he…


Gordon Preece is Director of the Centre for Research in Religion an Social Policy, Director of Ethos and Commissioning Editor of Zadok Perspectives.

This article was originally published as ‘God Knows: Our Beginning and End When We Don’t Know’ in The End of Life? Zadok Perspectives 131 (Winter 2016), 15-19. It was awarded Gold in the Best Faith Reflection category in the 2017 Australasian Religious Press Association (ARPA) annual awards.