Yesterday, I officiated a funeral. As a pastor, there is no greater challenge and privilege than to step into the darkest hours of a family’s life. Whether I’m speaking at a funeral or attending one, I can’t help but focus on my own mortality.
And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Look at the instructions in Ecclesiastes 7:2:
“Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all–everyone dies; so the living should take this to heart.”
Now, Solomon (the author of Ecclesiastes) wasn’t off his meds when he wrote this. He wasn’t just haven’t a crummy day. He wasn’t possessed by the spirit of Eeyore. It wasn’t a rainy day or a Monday that always brought him down. He had been and was in the course of looking the world over, searching for the meaning of any part of life that he could grab on to. His search had brought him to some astounding, sombering, and sobering conclusions, such as is found in the verse above.
My wife lives in constant fear of me dying. I suppose all wives who adore their husbands have that fear on some level. But I’d like to suggest that the thought of death is a wonderful motivator for life. Now, I’m not saying that the fear of death is a wonderful motivator; there’s a huge difference between thinking about death and fearing death. I don’t fear death. I’m saddened for what my death will bring to others, because I truly know that I am a deeply loved person by many people. I know, as humbly as I can say this, that my absence will be a hole and a pain in their lives for a time. I’m certainly saddened by that. But fearing death? Nope.
Death is not the mystery many people think it is. As I type this, I’m about 10-15 feet away from my front door. If I were to stand up, go to that door and walk through it, I’d be outside. So it is with death. Death is nothing more than a door we all (or most) will pass through. Our bodies are nothing more than containers for our spirit. My body is not me. When you come to my funeral, and if by chance my family decides to have the casket open, what you’ll see is nothing more than an expired vehicle. I’m not there. I’m with the Lord. The Apostle Paul said it perfectly and clearly: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” See? I’m not there.
Don’t cry for me, Argentina.
Also the brother of a dear friend of mine passed away late last night, and we just got word this morning. I can tell you that my friend is not mourning today “as those who have no hope,” as the Apostle Paul writes. When a friend of Jesus dies, we celebrate. We worship God for the good gift of a wonderful life He has given. But Job (in the Old Testament) said it best when he looked at the loss that surrounded him and said, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” His wife’s attitude was a just a tad bit different than that. She suggested to Job that he “curse God and die.” What a sweetie.
Our view of death is hinged greatly on our view of God. Strike that. Our view of death is hinged ENTIRELY on our view of God. Is God loving, faithful, and with us? If He’s not, then the best we can do is cling to memories. If He is, then the hope we have and the peace He gives is more than enough to outweigh and overshadow the pain of human loss that we feel.