Author’s Note: My apologies for not putting out writings over the last several months. My spare time has been filled with an effort to put together a hymnbook for use among our people. That work has reached its initial conclusion as we went to print last week. Lord willing, the hymnal will be available for purchase at the end of the year. For those interested, the book will be called “Worship the King: An Old School Baptist Hymnal” and further information can be found at wtkhymnal.org.
Dealing With Loss
One of the oldest clichés about our existence is, “Death is a part of life.” We all understand this on a conceptual level, but when the “rubber meets the road,” it affects us in different ways at different times. During this time of the year with holidays, family time, etc. death and loss seems to invade even seasons such as this. Many families – while joyous of the holiday season – recall to mind those that they have lost: either due to losing them at this time of year or in seeing certain family seats empty that once were filled. So, for a time and season that is generally filled with thanksgiving and rejoicing, how do we deal with our loss in a fashion that pleases God and strengthens our inner man?
The human mind can be a fragile thing as we build up tendencies, notions, prejudices, and fancies that many times are not really rooted in fact but rather opinion. When an older person passes away, it might seem natural to think, “Well, they lived a good life, and though we’ll miss them, it’s understandable.” When a young person passes away, it might seem natural to think, “What a tragedy! Such a loss with so much life left!” Again, this is natural to think like this, but is it really fact? Some of my deepest losses have not been the young that I’ve lost but rather the old. When those sage old vessels of wisdom depart these shores, it can leave me with a void that seems like a canyon. When lifelong encouragers are stripped from us, we feel the grief that their shining countenance and cheerful disposition will be absent from our days here.
So, if a loss can be deeply felt – regardless of the circumstance of the person – we should look for a common answer. Yes, the Bible reader can point to heaven itself. Yes, the faithful kingdom soldier can point to the love and grace of God that has overcome death so that we might have hope while we continue our pilgrimage. Recently, during this season of thanksgiving, I came to a realization that of all the things I was thankful for, I had left something glaringly out. Has that ever happened to you kind reader? Have you had the “palm smack the forehead” moment that made you feel very tiny in your thoughts and understanding?
Sometimes if we look hard enough, we can find blessings in curses and curses in blessings. They come in all forms. Wealth and goods can be a great blessing and a great curse. Good things bestowed can turn the heart to covetousness or idolatry. None of us are immune. Many times, we are thankful for the deliverances from death. Salvation from its effects. Deliverance from its end. However, I am now thankful for death itself. Yes, there is a great curse in death. It is the penalty for sin. Yet, the blessing in death is that it separates the child of God from the curses, strains, and toils of this existence.
Many years ago, I lost a 1st cousin at the ripe old age of 22. A few years later, we lost my father at the elderly age of 49. Both situations brought a multitude of statements and condolences about what a great loss it was and the tragedy of so much potential cut short. A few years ago, we lost my great uncle and my father in the ministry who were both in their 80s. In both cases, people talked about the good soldier laying his armor down. However, all those cases – though varied in many ways – are still felt to some degree by me today. My 1st cousin was one of the nicest young men I had the pleasure of knowing, my father was a great instructor with much of what I know today to his credit, my great uncle was the meekest man I ever knew, and my father in the ministry was one of the kindest and wisest men I ever had the pleasure of being around. What was common to their cases?
Some had cancer, some had heart conditions, some showed the rapid advance of age in all its ugliness. Death relieved each of them from those burdens. The pain of cancer is gone. The burden of a sin cursed existence is forever removed. Job declared that infants that never see the light of day are in a place where the “wicked cease from troubling” and the “weary be at rest.” (Job 3:15) Consider what we think is the tragedy of the death of a child. Job declares that a child in such a case cannot be troubled by the wickedness that we daily endure, and the weary soul and longing heart is in complete rest.
Years ago, a rock band posited the question, “Who wants to live forever?” Seen in the context of this life, who would? Would you want to live forever with cancer wracking your body with pain? How about a ticker that keeps you weary, out of breath, and light-headed? More importantly, would you want a perpetual life where evil thoughts and wicked desires rise up in your heart and prey on your mind? No friends, though the curse and sting of death can be bitter for us in this old world, I’m thankful for death. It is the vehicle that separates us from all these curses that we see and endure.
When God placed the flaming sword in the Garden of Eden to keep the way to the tree of life, that was a curse that man had brought upon himself. His right to that tree was banned. Yet, even that curse had a silver lining. God knew that man would attempt to eat it and live forever, so He prevented that from happening. Why? So we would not live forever down here. We will not live with these problems and deal with strife forever. Sometimes – like all I suppose – I think about what it would be like to chat with one of those sage minds once again or listen to the encouragement and kindness of those that have been so good to me. And yet, I’m glad that they aren’t plagued with cancer, bent over in a wheelchair where they can’t walk, or suffering the ravages of a stroke, senility, etc. Forever they are at rest and peace at home.
What are you thankful for? I’m supremely thankful most of all for the Almighty and what He has done for us. One of the things I’m now thankful for is that we have the deliverance that death brings. The Psalmist declared that the death of the Lord’s saints was “precious” in His sight. (Psalm 116:15) May this be precious to us as well in that while we miss the fellowship of our loved ones, we love the deliverance that has fully and mightily come unto them. A fellow minister told me one time, “I’ve gotten to the point where I have more friends up there than down here. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself that I’m still around, but I remember His grace and await the day that death knocks on my door. When it does, I’ll not only see my friends again, I’ll see Him with the perfect understanding that just doesn’t belong in a place like this.”