Many of us this Thanksgiving Day are grieving lives lost far too soon or living with the gaping hole and profound silence that remains after a lifetime of togetherness is severed by death. Babies born still, children and teens afflicted by disease, cancer or an incurable infection, those killed in accidents or military service, by their own hands or as a victim of crime, substance abuse, and old age. Regardless of the length of the relationship or the age of the deceased, those who are left behind grapple with overwhelming questions, emotions, and spiritual issues.
When death comes to call we struggle to find the comfort and consolation the Bible speaks of. Men and women well grounded in their faith may be afraid to admit that there are times when knowing that they will be reunited with their loved ones in Heaven is little more than a cold comfort. We know it to be true, are thankful for that truth, but it just doesn’t leave us with warm fuzzy feelings.
Maybe that’s the problem . . .
We interpret comfort as warm fuzzy feelings instead of the confident assurance that God’s eternal promises will come to pass . . .
and when those warm fuzzy feelings cannot be found, we believe ourselves to be abandoned without the promised comfort of the Lord.
Death is yet to be swallowed up in victory. It’s one of those finished, but not yet fulfilled, promises of scripture.
Death still stings.
And our comfort, whether we recognize it or not, is the confident assurance of every eternal promise in scripture.
That’s what comfort is—not warm fuzzy feelings.
The bereaved straddle the fence between resisting any explanation for the too soon parting of those they love and embracing the comfort the exact same scriptures provide in anticipation of their own death.
A fellow loss Mom recently shared Acts 13:36 with me. It says that when David had served his purpose (and in at least one translation—when he fulfilled God’s will) for his generation, he fell asleep and was buried and saw decay. That verse is immediately followed by one that tells us that Jesus never saw decay, which is, of course, the reason we can be assured that this parting is only temporary for those who are in Christ. Isaiah 57:1 says (I’m paraphrasing again here) that when good men die, no one understands that God is rescuing them from the evil to come.
When I think of those two verses together knowing that this world is filled with evil that touches us every single day, I have to believe that God does not dilly dally around. He does not let the children He loves linger and languish in this world of sin one moment beyond the point in time when they have served their purpose in their generation. I believe that our final day is preordained so that we are not exposed to the sin of this world and denied the pleasures of Heaven, for one moment longer than required to fulfill God’s chosen purpose for our individual lives.
I’m making a bit of an assumption here but really isn’t that consistent with the nature and character of God? Why would the long-suffering God of 2 Peter 3:9, who holds back the second coming of the Lord for that one final sinner to receive salvation, allow a single one of His children to live in a world tainted by sin one moment beyond the fulfillment of their worldly purpose? Not only does Heaven and all its wonders await but don’t you think God the Father, and Jesus Christ His son, have longed for and lived in anticipation of their first face to face meeting with each of us?
Is it so hard to imagine that possibility?
Scripture tells us that everything created was created for God. We are His treasure. The apple of His eye. He has heard His children cry out in desperation, “Where are you?”, and, “How long, O Lord”, time and time again. In response, He has drawn near to us and spoken to us; if we have ears to hear. And the Holy Spirit, who resides within, has offered comfort while Christ has interceded countless times from the throne of grace. But we, His children, have never experienced that moment when we’ve looked upon His face and seen Him as He is. We’ve never touched hands—only hearts and minds. How many times have we just wished we could talk to God face to face?
I attended a conference for bereaved parents in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in early October of 2017. The conference was awesome and good for me in a number of ways. I knew it would be, but the one thing that made me jump through all the hoops required to attend was the opportunity to meet a fellow blogger, a fellow loss Mom and her daughter, whom I had become friends with online through a grief support group. I knew Melanie and Fiona before we ever met face to face. I knew their hearts and thoughts. I knew of the challenges they face and the pain they bear and even some of the strengths and weaknesses of their faith in God, but I didn’t really feel like I knew them until I met them in person. Finally, I could hear the sound of their voices, watch a smile bloom or tears fill their eyes, and hug them close. The internet is a blessed substitute for a face to face relationship. In much the same way scripture, prayer and the inhabitance of the Holy Spirit allow us to develop a relationship with the triune God and come to know His thoughts, ways, character, love, and power. But as thankful as I am for all of that, it all pales in comparison to the anticipation of that first face to face meeting.
I know it sounds as if meeting God is far more exciting for us than it is for Him, but truly, if we were created for His pleasure don’t you think our pleasure brings Him pleasure?
Have you ever bought an extravagant gift for a loved one? Something that they’ve wished for but never really expect to receive? You scrimp and save, purchase it, wrap it and may even plan a special way to give the gift and throughout the entire process, your excitement grows and grows. But the greatest enjoyment comes the moment they open it, squeal and jump up and down, or fall to their knees in shock and pleasure when they receive it.
Can you imagine that the God in whose image we were made, might actually feel that same way about that first moment He meets us in person? That He anticipates seeing your excitement and awestruck pleasure at the sight of Heaven—His gift, His reward—prepared specifically for you? Can you imagine His rumbling laughter as you leap around, hugging Him and the loved ones who have gone before and gathered for your welcome home party? Can you picture it? Can you imagine the joy He feels at finally having you home where you belong?
As Lisa, my Life Group Leader, reminded the women’s class at church Sunday, our individual lives touch innumerable other lives. We may never know the purpose and power of those individual touch points. A brief conversation with a stranger in a grocery store gives hope to a hurting heart. A colleague at work, an unsaved friend, or a classmate sees the way you treat others and unbeknownst to you it makes a lasting, behavior altering difference because you modeled your Savior and it’s completely unlike anything they’ve seen before. How amazing is it to think that all those seemingly insignificant encounters have a God-ordained purpose? They all matter – not a little but a lot! Somehow, the most minor and innocuous of interactions believers have with others are necessary, absolutely necessary (can you grasp that?) for the fulfillment of God’s purposes?
When a loved one lingers in a less than comfortable condition you can be sure God only allows it because His child has not yet fulfilled their eternal purpose for their generation. That knowledge doesn’t make watching a loved one suffer hurt any less, but it does remind us how incredibly valuable every life actually is for all eternity. Every moment, every encounter is highly significant.
I am comforted to know, that the God the Amplified Version of the Bible says exercises extraordinary patience toward the lost sinner also does not delay in rescuing His children from the evil of this world. He doesn’t wait to bestow the reward of Heaven or the ultimate joy of that first face to face meeting. God, in the act of forming us in our mother’s wombs, foresaw the moment yet to come in your life and mine, when we will finally fulfill the entirety of our purpose for our generation and numbered our days to coincide with that precise moment.
You will not likely find this bereaved mother oozing warm fuzzy feelings about this truth because right now loss just hurts, but it is a consolation my mind acknowledges, appreciates and clings to, embraces and even finds fantastically awe-inspiring. It is a comfort to my grief-ravaged heart.
I hope it is for you too.