Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When That Day Comes

Except for the unfortunate few who are stricken early in life by major illness, most of us don't really take our mortality seriously before our mid-thirties. Teenagers and college students, especially, have a reputation for behavior that seems to dare death to come and get them. Even most twentysomething career folks brush off suggestions of estate planning or disability insurance with, "Oh, there's no rush."

Then one day we realize that our aches and pains have become frequent and persistent, that staying up past midnight is no longer easy, that our teeth can no longer tear open plastic packages without complaining, and that our eyes tire faster than they used to. We used to take it for granted that bed rest and medicine would make any illness go away quickly; now, every mole, discoloration, or lump carries the specter of possible months of treatment with no guarantee. Middle age is here, and it seems that the only way to go is downhill. The temptation to either retreat into depression or revert to second childhood can become overwhelming.

People do not like being reminded that someday they are going to die. Human nature fears the unknown, and the other side of death is life's biggest unknown.

Even most Christians have moments of wondering whether they can really trust God's promise of a better world beyond. Many of these moments occur at a loved one's funeral, particularly if death was unexpected. And to some degree it usually is; even with terminal illness, we can't stop hoping for a miracle cure or at least for one more day/week/month/year. When the pain of separation is at its keenest, "do not... grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13, NIV), seems an empty cliche.

Someone else's death can indeed be more painful than one's own. Many a person lies on the edge of eternity assuring his or her weeping loved ones, "Don't cry; we'll see each other again soon enough." It rarely stops the tears immediately. Months later, though, the memory can be a comfort.

Looking back at the verse from 1 Thessalonians, we see that it does not say, "Thou shalt not grieve." Although there are Christians who would have us believe that any sorrow indicates a lack of faith and is thus sinful, even Jesus cried at a friend's death--even though He was about to personally remedy that problem! Let us give ourselves permission to cry, yes; but let us never let the loss dominate our lives from that point on. If we let years pass and continue to tell ourselves daily that we can never be happy again, we are guilty of a form of idolatry--as in any attempt to tell God that we know better than He what we must have.

God does not break our hearts sadistically, nor permanently. As the old quote goes, "Those who live in the Lord never see each other for the last time."

When that day comes
When God calls me from this world to depart,
Though you shed tears,
Though I may leave behind your broken heart,

Let all your tears
Be tempered by the knowledge that one day
We'll meet again
In that bright world that knows no sorrow nor decay--

We'll meet again;
So let that knowledge cheer you, and the thought
Of God's own hand,
The Lord Who our eternal lives has bought.

Within God's hand,
Eternal peace and joy is ours at last;
The day shall come
When in His land we shall forget all pains of past.

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