July 9th, 2010 by Kristi Stephens
This weekend my family will be having a funeral for my paternal grandfather. He lived an incredible life and left a rich spiritual legacy. I can only imagine how thrilling his time in heaven has been this past week – I wonder if he’s still meeting all the people who are there because of his influence! We rejoice that he is free from a 93 year old cancer-wracked body and finally in the presence of the God he so faithfully served… but we grieve our loss. He was a pillar in our family.
I’m sure many of you are either currently in a season of loss or have gone through loss that still pains your heart. I thought I would repost this (from our “understanding pain and loss” series last fall) for us all to ponder.
Of all the things we face in our broken world, nothing haunts us like death. No doubt, funerals for children and friends in their prime are devastatingly difficult. But there is no good time for death. Solomon’s struggle with the issue of death is one we all can relate to.
In Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 Solomon starts out his book with the lament – vanity of vanities! All is vanity!
[Remember our definition of vanity: futility, frustration, limitation, and ultimately death which every person experiences as a result of living in a sin-cursed world.]
He then points out that generations of people come and go, but the earth remains forever. The sun keeps on rising, the wind keeps on blowing, the water keeps on flowing… and yet humanity dies and is forgotten.
There is something so awful about driving from a funeral home to a cemetery, watching regular traffic and business continuing around you. Don’t they know what happened? Why is life just carrying on? If it’s raining at the cemetery it is miserable, but somehow if it’s sunny and beautiful that doesn’t feel right, either.
There is a reason that doesn’t feel right to us: the physical creation around us is temporal – it was not intended to last forever. However, humanity was created immortal! We were supposed to outlive this earth, not the other way around! Solomon’s observation of the sun and wind and water cycle continuing on through their existence while mankind lives and dies and is forgotten is a tough one to swallow.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. And the thing is, there’s nothing we can do to change it!
In Ecclesiastes 2:12-23, Solomon points out that both the wise man and the fool will meet the same earthly fate – death awaits them both. The wise man might show much greater fruit of his labors and wise living, but he must leave it behind to someone else who might very well be foolish.
Cheery line of thinking, isn’t it?
There’s no getting around it: death is awful. Awful, awful, awful.
Consider the story of Lazarus dying and being raised from the dead by Jesus. This account in John 11 is moving to me, because it gives us a small glimpse of God’s feelings about our sufferings with the reality of death.
In verse 4 we see that Jesus purposely waited long enough for Lazarus to die before going to him. He knew that He would go and raise Him from the dead. The text carefully points out that Lazarus’ sister was Mary, the one who anointed his feet and wiped them with her hair. We are told specifically in verse 5, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” But He let him die.
Once Jesus was approaching their village, Mary meets Him on the way and falls at His feet weeping. She says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” The next verse is so moving to me – “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (33) Then we are told succinctly in verse 35 that “Jesus wept.”
Let that sink in. Jesus knew that Lazarus would be alive again in just a few minutes. Why was He weeping? He was troubled when He saw Mary and others who loved Lazarus mourning.
Death is the most haunting part of the curse – it feels unnatural because it is. The fact that Jesus weeps with His friends in this passage is so profound. He knows the end of the story – that not only will Lazarus be resurrected at the second coming, but that he would be alive and reunited with his family within the hour. And yet He wept. Separation and loss through death is horrible, and Jesus knows – He weeps with us.
This story is also the location of a familiar couple of verses – “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) Jesus’ resurrection changed everything – He was the firstborn from the dead, the promise of our resurrection yet to come. (Colossians 1:18)
As Barbara Mouser states so well, God is redeeming His creation in the order in which it fell. When we rebelled, we died spiritually. The curse and all of its yuckiness reflects that spiritual death and decay in the physical realm. God has redeemed us spiritually, and one day, He will redeem His physical creation, as well. Right now we are caught in the middle.
So, even while we mourn death and disease in this life, it is a different kind of mourning from those who have no hope. Our separation, our loss, our struggle with death is temporary. One day, all will be made new. One day, death will be a distant memory. One day, there will no longer be any curse. (Revelation 21:3-5, 22:3)
We as believers in Jesus have tremendous hope. But death still hurts. It looms around us and steals away those we love. Even while we celebrate the hope that is in us, we must guard against calloused and pat answers which gloss over the real pain we all face.
Even Jesus weeps with us.
All the “understanding pain and loss” posts are indexed here.
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