there is something that seems so wrong about death. something about it that feels unfair in the deepest, most fundamental sense - being cheated out of something you didn't create but grew to love. and in the blink of an eye, or in a couple of days, or in a few painful months, it is over.
it makes sense in some ways, though. if i didn't believe that there was a good and loving God who created human beings and wanted us to live full lives on earth; if i wasn't part of a redemptive community that rejoiced and mourned and did even the most mundane things together; if i thought God didn't care or wasn't real or couldn't be reached . . . if, if, if, if, if. but part of knowing the God that the bible tells us all about is knowing that this happens, knowing that we are alive because he gave us life, knowing that we, in our current forms, do not last forever, cannot last forever, and are not meant to last forever in this way. i can't really accept God's sovereignty in the peaks of my life and reject it in the valleys - i know that the valleys will come, even when i feel on top of the world.
when God is talking to Job in the old testament, Job complains a bunch. i like to think of it as bitching. i would have bitched at God a lot more if i went through what Job did. so, we see Job questioning God and lamenting his current state and saying things like "If my misery could be weighed, if you could pile the whole bitter load on the scales, it would be heavier than all the sand on the sea! God has dumped the whole works on me." Then he says some really cool things to one of his friends, like "Listen - the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn't it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand . . . True wisdom and real power belong to God; from him we learn how to live, and also what to live for."
Then he asks this question: "If we humans die, will we leave again? That's my question. All through these difficult days I keep hoping, waiting for the final change - for resurrection!" He says "Still, I know that God lives - the One who gives me back my life - and eventually he'll take his stand on earth. And I'll see God myself, with my very own eyes! Oh, how I long for that day!"
In all of his despair and heart-wrenching grief, Job still holds fast to his core beliefs - those things he really knows to be true. And then, God talks to him! God reminds Job of His power and His intimate knowledge of the earth and everything in it. Job isn't God; i'm not God; you're not God. None of us were there when God created the earth; not one of us "know death's dark mysteries."
When God talks to Job, he sounds angry sometimes. but he answers Job's questions. he doesn't give a satisfactory explanation as to why he let all of this tragedy befall Job - because that's not the issue. the issue is, does Job believe that God is who He says He is? and for a while, Job had forgotten. he remembered that God was sovereign, that God was all-powerful, but in other matters Job "lived by rumors" of God instead of experiencing God firsthand. Job promises never again to "live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor." He will feast on the full knowledge of God because he KNOWS God. We know God. I know God.
it still doesn't make sense, in so many ways. death is still the saddest thing about life. but it comes, and when it does, we can only lean into the fact that we have a God and wise God who loves us dearly and knows more than we can fathom.
a good friend of mine lost his younger sister this weekend. that is irretrievable, and i do not have effective words to console or comfort or explain. all i have is that God is good - God is good, and He is always near.
the words of this hymn have ministered to me all week. i heard it when i was in seattle, and kristy and i talked about how beautiful it is.
be still my soul - katharina von schlegel, 1752
be still, my soul! the Lord is on your side:
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to your God to order and provide;
in every change he faithful will remain.
be still, my soul! your best, your heavenly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
be still, my soul! your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past;
your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
be still, my soul! the waves and winds still now
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
be still, my soul! the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love's purest joy restored.
be still, my soul! when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.