I've been listening quite a bit lately to contemporary folk singer William Elliott Whitmore. In one of his dirges entitled "Lord Only Knows," Whitmore laments the fleetingness of life and elegizes the flowers from a funeral, which are starting to wilt as they, too, die. The song evoked a cathartic response and caused me to reflect on the fact that, as some point, all of us are forced to deal with losing loved ones. Death is practically the only certainty in life, and probably the hardest part to deal with. It's a tragedy of whose painful sting has been felt by nearly every one of us. Death is the end of all that we know through our experience and senses, but Christians believe it is the beginning of something else. All too often, though, we forget the promise of eternal life in the midst of our sorrow. Mourning is necessary, and expected—even Jesus himself mourned the death of his friends—but we must be careful that we don't let lament tear us apart. Mourning must end at some point, and we must remember the promise. We must recall that in Jesus Christ we have everlasting life. I considered, while contemplating this song, that there are two ways we can respond to loss: we can turn away from Jesus Christ and wilt like Whitmore's proverbial flowers, or we can turn our eyes toward Him and gain strength and comfort through the hard times. In fact, these responses apply to almost any hardship, regardless of the severity, with which we might be faced.
Almost twelve years ago, I lost my grandfather to cancer. He was the
first person to whom I was close who I lost to death's cold grip, and
the loss made me question what I had learned about God, so much so that
I eventually walked away from Him and decided that what I had been
taught about God was a lie. I thought that, somehow, I would find
meaning or answers now that I had freed myself from the "lie" that I
perceived the Christian worldview to be. Three years later, I lost one
of my best friends to suicide. The search for something to fill the void
and ease the pain continued.
Almost five years ago, though, that search ended for me. Things came
full-circle, and I found all of the answers to my questions in Jesus
Christ, through the Bible and the people whom God had placed in my life.
Scripture explained the pain on earth, and not only gave an answer for
it, but also described God's place in all of it. Had I actually bothered
to look there in the first place, perhaps I'd have noticed them, for
they had been there all along. The experiences of others helped me to
deal with the pain that I was feeling. Newfound knowledge of grace
assured me that I could return to Jesus Christ without fear of being
Earlier this year, I experienced something of an abbreviated parallel to
the tragic deaths of my grandfather and friend years ago. In early
February, my aunt Lucy passed away, finally succumbing to numerous
health problems that had plagued her for many years. Lucy was a quiet
lady who exuded love through everything she did. Less than a week later,
on Valentine's Day, my friend Mike was struck by a car and died shortly
thereafter. Mike had a tough-guy exterior that thinly veiled his
abundant generosity and genuine compassion, and he left behind a
daughter who hadn't even celebrated her first birthday yet. These losses
were incredibly painful to me, especially Mike's, whose death seemed so
premature, and my initial reaction was to question God. Why would he
allow these things to happen? It was the same question that I had
repeatedly asked a decade earlier, only this time I turned
to God for the answers.
I realized, finally, that death is not the end, but the beginning. It is
not the worst thing that can ever happen to us, but the most glorious.
Death is freedom from the suffering of this life, and the birth into the
joy of the next. Those of us who have a personal relationship with Jesus
Christ have in that relationship hope.
Although we mourn the loss of our loved ones, we celebrate their
deliverance to a better place. We can find comfort and even joy in the
secure knowledge that God Himself is personally with us to help ease the
pain. The ache of loss and the agony of death do nothing to disprove the
existence of God or His promise of everlasting life, but the strength we
have available in Him confirms it. Life on this earth does not last
forever and that is a wonderful thing, for it gives way to that which
does last forever:
eternal life with the Father. And
it is the freely-given gift of Grace through Christ that allows us to
experience that life without end.