In Search of the Ideal, Part 3: Death & Loss

Author’s Note: This is the third part in a series on mankind’s search for the ideal — the perfect, the mature, the right. I m convinced that every human being, Christian or not, has at some depth a desire for things to “be right” in the world. This longing drives us to seek answers. Some look internally, some look to religion, and others look to a higher power. Lately, I’ve been deeply craving for certain areas of life to be perfect, complete and ideal. This series explores some of my longings. Maybe you can relate!

 

The moment was so poignant, so moving, that it caught me by surprise.

As I prepared to open the door of a local fast food restaurant a few weeks ago, a scene that summed up grief played out before my eyes. A young teenage boy, stern-faced and grown up, leaned low to the ground and took his sobbing young brother into his arms and gave him a long comfort hug. They were standing outside the restaurant door, both dressed in purple shirts and black pants, with white corsages pinned to their shirts. Activity at the funeral home next door gave context to the moment.

Inside the restaurant, others also dressed in purple and black with a white floral garnish waited in line to be served. They were all young — under 18 — and I assumed were siblings and cousins, grabbing lunch after the funeral of a loved one. I found out through a program they left behind that it was their grandmother, a woman who died quite young (and I guess loved purple). The older boys in line were smiling, though their happiness was quite restrained, while the girls and younger boys wore a look that I know all so well: the look of empty faces and broken hearts. My heart instantly broke with theirs.

I hate death, too.

The actions of the older boy outside the door caught me even more by surprise and broke my heart further. You see, in one instant, loving compassion conquered the boy’s desire to be strong and brave in the face of death. He saw his brother start to weep and his instinct was immediate — hug him. Show sorrow. Show love. Comfort the broken-hearted. I’m tearing up right now as I remember the scene.

I cannot help but think of the grief that overcame Jesus — Lord and Creator of all the Universe — when He saw Mary and Martha and their friends weeping over the death of their brother Lazarus (John 11:33-36). Jesus, who had been keeping a strong face up to this point, was so moved that He cried. Yes, God cried.

He hates death, too.

Last fall, my family suffered the hideous, cancerous death of my maternal grandmother. The matriarch of a southern family, for her whole life she was so strong that I was almost convinced that she would outlast the sun itself. But life often reminds us that we are not ten-feet tall and bulletproof, doesn’t it? Cancer finally claimed her body and we all wept (and are in some ways still weeping). My mother then lost her last living uncle to cancer a little over a month later.

Then, in March, our closest family friend — a man we Newton kids called “uncle” — died in a tragic motorcycle crash overseas. “I hate death!” I’ll never forget hearing my mother exclaim that as she reacted to the shocking news. My dad, who lost his best friend, mourned deeply (and is still mourning). He puts up a strong face but he hates death, too.

Don’t we ALL hate death?

Things just don’t seem right after someone dies. Families are broken, possessions are re-distributed, and memories get really, really, emotional. Really dang emotional.

After my grandmother passed away her and my grandfather’s estate was distributed among the children and grandchildren. I received some things that I have with me here in New Mexico and that I guard zealously. But whenever I look at the things, it doesn’t seem right that they are here with me and not where she had them. They aren’t mine, they are hers! And this cabinet should be there and this chair should be there and everything should be right back in her house where I remember them!

Things have memories attached to them, you know?

I desperately long for the ideal of life without death. I hate death so much that I want to be anywhere but near it. I’ll never forget the adverse reaction I had when my seminary pastoral care class visited a funeral home in Oak Cliff, Texas, to go over pastoral funeral protocol and officiating. I had been in a funeral home once before as an adult but the idea of being near the dead makes my skin crawl. Open casket funerals are the worst — sadness heaped upon sadness. As an associate pastor, the senior pastor and I created a “no open casket” funeral policy at our church. It is so hard to focus on heaven when… well, you know.

In Revelation 21, the Lord gives us a glimpse of what life will be like without death around. But the glimpse is fleeting and words are hard to grasp with our minds. A voice from God’s throne proclaims that in God’s recreated heaven… ““Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more — or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

But what about the here and now? Death and loss hurt badly. We are emotional beings created in the image of an emotional God. He weeps. We weep. But death itself in conquered (see Heb. 2:14-15) and we can have hope that one day there will come a time when there will be no more dying. We can also take hope in heaven — that those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ will head into His presence when they die (see 2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil 1:23-24). With both my grandmother and my “uncle,” we had assurance that they died in Christ and went into the presence of God in heaven. We wept, but we wept with hope.

Death still hurts like mad. But hope lets me be excited to see them again in heaven. Without hurt and sickness and pain. Life in the ideal. Come, Lord Jesus!

Be God’s.