Yesterday, the sister of one of my college roommates died after a brief and sudden illness that caused cardiac arrest on Monday. The disease destroyed her body in less than a week. I'm overcome with sadness for my friend, her family, and for this young woman's husband and his family. In addition, another friend is observing the one year anniversary of her mother's death; my friend is here and her family is in the southern hemisphere. My heart aches for her and her family, as well.
As I was trying to process this yesterday, I turned to the Bible and looked up 'death' in the concordance. This verse caught my eye. It's from Ecclesiastes, one of the wisdom books, and it reads like this:
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart.
This verse reminds us that death is part of real life. We can't imagine it away; being near it keeps us mindful of our frailty; and it causes us to look outside ourselves for meaning.
I don't know about you, but when someone is suffering, it can feel so awkward, trying to figure out what to say or what to do - or what NOT to say and what NOT to do. In the short run, I think it's easier to run away, or send a card and think we've done our duty. It is HARD to be near to those who suffer, not because they are difficult, but because suffering is what it is: painful, agonizing, reveals our weakness, etc.
But then there's Jesus, the Word. The believer must turn to Him. He gave up the heavens for a while, to enter into our broken world. He came to save people from sin and (while he experienced some popularity) was regularly, misunderstood, unthanked, hated, and finally killed. In prayer this morning I was reminded of the verse in Isaiah that reads he was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. God knows what it's like. We can come to him in and with our pain. Psalm 34:18 reads, The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Not only does He know what it's like, but He did something about it! Jesus came to bridge the gap. God is the source of life. Man disobeyed and fell into sin. We are all left under that curse that separates us from God, leaving us dead. And we are powerless to restore the relationship. Ever. So guess who took care of it? Yes, God Himself! That is why Jesus came. In Matthew 1:21, Joseph is told to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. And Jesus later says, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 6:24)
None of this makes light of suffering, asking us to buck up, smile and simply trust God, pretending our heart isn't breaking. In fact, it very much acknowledges how awful death is and how it is not what God intended. And God is not afraid of it; He endured it. It doesn't offend or scare the God of the universe when people cry out to him in the agony of loss, pain, or suffering. He experienced death, that we may have life! He is no distant God, our ever-present help in help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
I still don't know exactly what to do for my friends, if I even need to 'do' anything. But I know that Jesus called His followers to love God and love their neighbor. May He enable us to love our neighbors (anyone around us, friend or foe) in a life-giving way that brings Him glory. I sure know I can't do it on my own. Lord, have mercy. And come, Lord Jesus, we look forward to watching you make all things new!