Perspective on Death

It isn’t hard to imagine the pain she felt when her only son, not yet a full grown man, died. Grief. Fear. Anger. Confusion. As would any of us, I’m sure she questioned God intensely. “Where were you? Why did you let this happen? Don’t you care?”

Questions that would remain unanswered this side of eternity.

Or so she thought. As the men of the town carried the boy out to his burial, Jesus stepped onto the scene. “His heart was filled with pity for her,” as the King James Version puts it. He saw her grief. He recognized her fear. He felt her anger. He understood her confusion. “Do not weep,” he said. And then he exercised his power over death, and brought the boy back to life. (Luke 7:11-17)

Grief turned to joy. Fear to confidence. Anger to trust. Confusion to clarity. Jesus is Lord. He can do anything. We can trust him completely.

But to anyone who has lost a child, this story might be unsettling. Why that child, and not mine? Why that one, and not this one? Jesus, if you could do that then, why didn’t you do it now? Jesus, if you cared then, do you not now?

A family in our community recently said goodbye to their 8 month old baby girl. Her death was sudden, unexpected, not the result of a long borne illness. Many in our community prayed for a miracle that never came.

It is so very clear that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And how do we answer that lingering question, “Why?” What answer can we give to our own hearts when we feel the confusion? We can try and rely on the cliche answers. “She’s in a better place.” “It was just her time.” “God has a plan.” There is, of course, truth behind all those answers, but they feel shallow in the moment.

What answer can we give to our children, who don’t even have the abstract thinking to understand those well-worn responses to tragedy? How can we make clear to them that which we ourselves struggle to understand?

I’d love to be able to say that I’m heading toward a thought that really answers the question, “Why did Jesus raise that one and not this one?” but that wouldn’t be true. I don’t have that answer. I know that when Jesus raised the young man in the village of Nain, the news about Jesus spread and people came to faith. I know that when this daughter of our community died, many people came to the memorial service to hear words of comfort, and Law and Gospel were preached, and the Holy Spirit uses that to bring people to faith.

That’s all I know.

Well, not all. There’s one more thing I know, and it’s the thing that really does bring clarity to the confusion. Replaces anger with trust. Puts confidence in place of fear. Turns grief to joy.

I know that my Redeemer lives.

And I know that he is good.

Jesus died. He paid the price of my sins. He took the punishment I earned. He carried my guilt and buried it in his tomb. And then he beat Death at his own game, coming back to life. He has promised me that none who die in him remain dead, but live forever with him.

So this little girl is not truly dead, nor are any children of any grieving parents. They live on. It’s a change of geography – from this earth to heavenly realms. It’s a change of form – from sinful mortal to glorified saint. This is the answer. This is how I know Jesus is good. If he lets one of his believers – a child, an elder, anyone – pass from this earth, it is only ever good for them. It’ll be good for us, too, when the time comes.

Jesus’ resurrection puts this all into perspective. Jesus has a way of doing that.