I have a friend who recently lost her father. We prayed for him before he died…to be healed of cancer, to recover quickly, to live. We prayed that we would know and see his healing and his salvation.
The family got called to the hospital when he took a turn for the worse. They went. My friend got to tell him she loved him. She said, “Daddy, it’s so important to me to know you’re saved.” He raised his hand in response.
He had made peace with God at some point…years before or at that moment…it doesn’t matter…he is with God now. We have peace.
Before he died, we prayed. We prayed he would be able to communicate with his family. He didn’t. We prayed for a recovery. There wasn’t. We prayed that his daughters would make it to his bedside in time to be together with him. They didn’t. He died.
So now, the clichés start. Most, however true, do not comfort. He won’t be sick anymore. He’s free. It was his time. He had a good life, a full life. We hear all these and more.
Do we believe God is sovereign? Yes, emphatically yes. Do we believe God is good? Once again, yes. But, do we feel pain at the loss of a loved one? Yes.
I once read in an article by John Eldredge that said death is not natural. It is a pain that we were not meant to feel. God created us to live forever (on the earth) glorifying His name and bringing Him pleasure. Man’s pride, his desire to seek equality with God, to make his own decisions apart from God made God number each man’s years to be no more than 120. “Then the Lord said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3) The Lord numbered our days so that we would die and stop fighting against God’s laws and ultimately, His love. When we die and have salvation, we are at perfect peace with God…forever.
The idea of Jesus dying for our sins to give us the free gift of eternal life was Plan B not because God didn't know we would need a savior but because we were in desparate need of a savior. His plan to bring redemption through Jesus Christ has been in place long before time began. Long before anyone every experienced death, God knew we would need Jesus. But we started out in the garden, that perfect place of oneness with God. Because of our sin and pride, God had to establish another way for us to be in communion with Him forever. The Way was established long before any law was ever broken. The fall was predicted be a kind, loving and good God long before anyone ever inhabited the garden. One of the results of mankind’s sin is death. Death causes pain. Death is not natural; we were not meant to die. Of course, one could argue that we were made to die because, again, God knew we would eventually die. But, redeemed this quality of death through Jesus Christ by giving eternal life to all who place faith in him. So, again, we were not meant to die.
Just because the truth is we were not meant to die doesn’t mean God does not appoint each man a time to live and a time to die. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 2) God is in control of our lives, each one. This pain we feel upon the death of those we love is a direct result of the fall of man.
The pain we feel in death could be one of the biggest injustices we suffer as a result of the fall of man. But, seeing the pain from this point of view allows me to understand a little more why God allows it to happen. We brought it on ourselves, so to speak. Mankind reacts to God’s loving direction in the same way an immature child reacts to his parents’ discipline. The end result of disregarding someone’s loving and wise authority is always pain.
If we keep an eternal perspective, we are reminded that we will only be separated from those we love for a little while. This life on earth is over in the twinkling of an eye. A day is like a thousand years to the Lord. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8) This eternal perspective allows us to grieve as ones with hope “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) But this perspective does not protect us from the intense pain of being separated, however temporarily, from the ones we love.
Jennifer Kennedy Dean said of her husband’s premature death from cancer that spending time with God was her only comfort, her only refuge. She spent time with the same God who had her husband in His eternal presence. That comforted her, made her feel close to him, to fellowship with a God who could transcend time and space (being omniscient) to be with her and her husband simultaneously. She said it did not stop her grief or her pain; it gave her a Godly response to the pain. It stopped bitterness, pity and depression from settling in and started an unending flow of praise from the seemingly bottomless pit of suffering.
In the grand scheme of things, we fall back on the truths we know. They do not take away our pain but they produce hope and manifest healing in us. We know God has appointed a time for each to die. We pray we can live our lives with this idea in front of us: we have limited time and opportunity to love, to do good, to live.
“Man's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (Job 14:5)
"Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” (Psalm 39:4)
The reason death hurts is that it is not natural. It is part of redemptiom in a Perfect Plan made by a Perfect God who is creative enough to make a way for us to be in perfect fellowship with him forever. Discipline hurts for a little while. As John Eldredge says, “Death is never natural.”
For more on John Eldredge’s ministry see www.ransomedheart.com
For more on Jennifer Kennedy Dean’s experience with the death of her husband see her blog at www.waynedean.blogspot.com Her ministry page is www.prayinglife.org