What do you do with death?


Whenever a people seem outwardly prosperous,
they are less prepared to spend time thinking about tragedy, while times of great suffering can get people thinking
a lot about something other than
the season finale of their favorite TV show or the big game.

~ Michael S.Horton

My grandparents’ church at Pine Bluff in Mississippi, like many older churches, has a cemetery on the grounds. When we’d visit church, we’d visit graves too.

At the cemetery where my daughter is buried, we were frequent visitors when our other daughters were young. Death wasn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t be avoided.

A healthy respect for dying leads to
a healthier respect for living.

The newspaper headline in last Sunday’s edition:

The details included:

  • Age 55. Died when the vehicle he and his nephew were in was blown off the highway.
  • Age 13. Trapped under her home along with her mother, who survived.
  • Age 61. She and her husband were in their home on their knees praying when the tornado hit. He survived, but she was killed.
  • Age 54. His house was blown in the lake. He grabbed some debris and held on until rescuers could pull him out. He died the next day at the hospital. His wife also was killed.
  • Age 81. Died in the storm 12 days after the death of her husband.
  • Age 20. Died with her grandmother.
  • Age 67. Died while driving to a storm shelter. A tree crashed through the vehicle, killing him. His wife was able to crawl to the floor bed and survive.
  • Age 34. Died with his wife and daughter when the storm struck their home.
  • Age 68. A veteran of two tours in Vietnam. Killed by a falling tree top. Entered a demolished house and pulled a woman and two children to safety shortly before his death.
  • Age 10. Died while he was with his grandmother at their home. She was holding him in her arms when the storm struck.
  • Age 47. Died in her home after telling rescue workers to save the mentally disabled adults who lived with her instead.
  • Age 42. Died when the chimney of his home fell on him as he covered his daughter.
  • Age 61. Died after being thrown from his cousin’s house as it was lifted, spun and demolished by a tornado.
  • Age 72. Died from an apparent heart attack as his neighbor’s house was hit by a tornado.
  • Age 44. Died with her husband after being thrown from their home.
  • And on and on and on...

Death is no respecter of persons. Obviously.

Our feeble sentimentalism simply cannot handle
the tragic side of life:
discomfort, sickness, disabilities, death,
evil, depression, fear, anxiety.

They are not realities to be faced, we tell ourselves,
but symptoms of an ignored disease that we can treat
with the proper medication, entertainment,
therapy, and technology.

But of all people who should know what to do with death,
shouldn’t it be Christians?

Michael Horton titles chapter 2 in A Place for Weakness as “Good News for Losers.” He notes that Christianity is not meant to make you look cool, prosperous, or famous. It’s not just for the healthy and strong. “Feeling good” is not its goal and “just keep it happy” doesn’t work.

We do not know what to do with sin, evil,
and death in this culture,
but by suppressing the question
we deprive people of the comfort
that comes from the answer.

So believers in Christ should be the people with hope.
The people who console.
The people who point to a higher purpose
instead of “a resignation to meaningless tragedy.”

Horton gets it right that when we anchor our hope in God, the goal of our life changes. And I add, the goal of our death.

The goal of life is not to be happy, but to be holy;
not to make ourselves acceptable to ourselves and others,
but to be made acceptable to God by God;
not to be gathered together with all
of the successful people in the prime of our life,
but to be gathered unto our fathers and mothers in the faith.

I can’t explain the deaths in the tornadoes.
Why some lived; why some died.

But because I know the One who does know, I’m asking him:

     Use us to send hope to the lives of survivors just as You opened Your arms to the souls of dying believers.
     Because death isn’t our enemy.
     Being without You is.

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
...But thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55, 57

* * *

We’re talking more about A Place for Weakness at Elizabeth’s.

How comfortable are you around death?


Barbara H. said...

That reminds me of these verses in Ecclesiastes 7: 2 It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.

3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.

4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

I don't remember going to a funeral until I was in my mid to late 20s. I thought it would be awful, especially the viewing, but it was actually a great comfort. And there usually an increased tenderness of heart then.

Yet death itself is still uncomfortable. I'll be glad when "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (I Cor. 25-27).

Rebecca said...

Beautifully written and thought out! My heart aches for the families ripped apart by these storms, but if salvation comes through the whirlwind, I'm sure many of them would say it was well worth it.
Thank you for giving us eyes to see through the tragedy.

Lisa notes... said...

I’m also reminded of Rom 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” I guess he’s saying that we need to be in tune with each other and help each other, regardless of the situation at hand.

And I agree with you that funerals can actually be a comfort. It’s freeing to me to be able to look death in the face and still find reasons to hope, even though I’m sad. It brings everybody together to really look at what’s important in life and let go of the trivial for a little while. But yes, I also will be glad when we’ll be finished with funerals!

Lisa notes... said...

What you had on
your blog is very pertinent here. Quoting you:

“Anyone can give thanks & praise for what God has done. Only the believer has the prerogative to give thanks & praise for what God will do on his behalf.”

Excellent point.

Anna said...

"But of all people who should know what to do with death, shouldn’t it be Christians?...So believers in Christ should be the people with hope. The people who console. The people who point to a higher purpose instead of 'a resignation to meaningless tragedy.'”

Yes! So much here, Lisa, excellent thoughts. The quote you begin with by Michael Horton-- it is a reflection of our culture's shallowness, living in the moment without thought to God... and while tragedies are horrific, it is true that sufferings bring us to our knees. It is a sad state of our true deceitful hearts, but also a merciful God who opens our eyes amidst the suffering. My heart is with my home, Alabama, the suffering there right now, and praying for the people, for more than just a temporary bending of the knee, to hearts and eyes that are truly opened. I have loved ones who were spared-- they are not believers-- and I pray for them. My heart aches, and your post brings me to tears. I wish so much that they know, believe.

I pray for you today, as you share your voice in pointing to hope in your circle of influence. "Death isn't our enemy. Being without You is." Just an excellent, thoughtful, wise, write today; so blessed by reading you, each time I visit.

Lisa notes... said...

I love your attitude that we pray for more than a “temporary bending of the knee” because I know a lot of that is happening right now. I hear it on the news and read it in the newspapers. But it’s the lasting heart-change that the Lord wants. Saying a prayer for your loved ones right now…

Amy Nabors said...

As I have watched how the churches in AL have responded to this disaster I have seen that hope being shared. It is so encouraging to watch and be a part of.

Lisa notes... said...

Hasn’t the response been so overwhelming? I can still hardly watch the news without crying at how good God is to work through so many people, and to see so many workers still on the side of the road fixing power lines or cutting trees every time I drive by. As terrible as the storms were, the response is hanging with it.

Melissa @ Breath of Life said...

I'm so thankful you're participating in this study with us! I love your perspective.

This was an eye-opening chapter for me. I realized I've been sold a bill of goods that's pretty useless. Oh, to know Him more so that I might live - and die - for Him & His glory!

Lisa notes... said...

I say the same about you. Glad you mentioned the study on your blog!

It took me two readings of this chapter to catch the full message he was sending us. It’s sad but profitable to read his commentary so we can make sure we keep our theology correct.

Didn’t you just love what Wanda shared about her sister’s battle with cancer, wanting everyone to see how good GOD is that she had her faith in, more than wanting them to see her faith? I’m looking forward to reading the next two chapters.

Kati patrianoceu said...

That list really is a poignant illustration. I really appreciate your perspective here, and wish it was something I heard more often, because I too often feel that we Christians are as bad as others, probably worse, and this leads to a very disappointing testimony on many levels. Thank you.

Brian Miller said...

the hardest death for me was my MIL about 3 years ago...watching her slowly waste away...being with her in the final moments...it was harder than someone just dying because we lost her 2 years earlier...hers was the first funeral i ever delivered as well....and i tried to make it a celebration of who she was and the example she set for us...

Joybird said...

I've known death. I've walked into a cold room to hug a friend goodbye who had just made a quick and final run to Costco. I sat with my Grandpa as he raced home and 2 summers ago I spent 5 days with a friend in a grimy convalescent home as he journeyed long and then in a blink of an eye journeyed far. Death is personal for me and yet I love life so it's still hard for me to truly see God's victory, His triumph as He gathers each one of His home. My feet are still planted in this tear soaked soil. So I hide if I can, wrapped in dismay and statistics, numbers so I don't have to see what I can't avoid in that list; life after precious individual life. People with stories and families and worries and to-do lists eternally interrupted. Without hope and faith in Jesus, what on earth would I have but denial?

Belinda said...

What an interesting perspective on death. Most Christians I know are only comfortable discussing Jesus' death and not those of a human.

I was moved to tears by the newspaper headlines. One can see the context in which some of these poeple died -- that they died with love in their heart by protecting others whom they love.

As for me, my father died when I was a teen. It was the most unwelcome event that's ever happened in my life. It's a life-changer, for sure.

Lisa notes... said...

“This leads to a very disappointing testimony on many levels.” Yes. A big reason why we need to step it up. Non-believers sometimes come specifically to believers in times of suffering because we profess to have answers, so do we? It’s a challenge to me too.

The dying often starts long before death, huh? That is definitely hard. I saw that with my own mom, first mentally, then physically. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to do your own m-i-l’s funeral but I applaud you for it because it’s always far more meaningful to me when someone close to the person does the speaking. With your incredible way with words, I’m sure you blessed many that day.

Lisa notes... said...

Yes, you have known death. I hear it deeper than the words you type. I still struggle too with “feeling” the victory in it when I lose someone I love, even though I “know” it is there. So I have to rest in the knowing for now and rejoice when the feelings catch up later.

Without Jesus? “what on earth would I have but denial”—a very poignant thought.

Your comment intrigues me about Christians only being comfortable discussing Jesus’ death and not humans’ deaths. I wonder what He would say to us directly about that…(or what he IS saying to us—Lord, give me ears to hear!).

Yes, those newspaper headlines pulled more tears out of me too. The details were all things I could imagine in my own life; makes it so real. Losing your father as a teen—that I cannot imagine. :-( I’m sorry for your loss; yes, I’m sure it was a life-changer indeed…

emily wierenga said...

oh my dear lisa, i didn't know you lost this precious daughter... where have i been? i'm so sorry... i wish i could hug you. words just don't do it.

thank you for breathing life into such a hard subject, friend. so much love to you. xo

Anonymous said...

My heart grieves for those whose lives were cut short. There is a difference when death is delivered through theft - like with the tornadoes - that's what the devil does - and the bedside death of someone who has lived a long life and are being called home. I have sat with older friends in their hospital rooms, read from scripture while they were inbetween this world and heaven. My grandmother's death at 95 was live that. I have lost a little girl midway through pregnancy - to great grief. St. Augustine says that the only difference between the pagan and the Chritian is how they handle life's challenges. I know that my loved ones are not lost - they're waiting for me. I can live with that, find rejoicing in that - after the grief. Our God beats that thief Satan every time that way!


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