I just learned today that some friends of ours lost their unborn baby at 27 weeks. In the words of my friend, their “hearts are shattered.” At the same time, another friend’s wife is steadily approaching the doorway between this life and the next. On top of all that, a third friend with a terminal illness is grappling with saying goodbye to his wife and daughters as God’s call home becomes louder and louder.
I hate death. I hate its grip on us. I hate its power to steal our joy and rob our hope. And as my heart struggles to rise amidst all of this sadness, I have been trying to put my finger on a few things. While the finality of death is staggering and tragic, there seems to be much more to the grief it brings. Several days of thoughts swimming in circles in my head have led me to this conclusion. Death is the culmination of the terrifying fear that lives inside us all. The fear that we are alone. The fear that at the end of the day, we will find ourselves painfully and unmistakably alone. Furthermore, I believe it is that very fear that drives us to God. We were never created to be alone. From the very beginning, we were made and intended to live amidst community, both divine and human. Therefore, when death robs us of our inmost need, our innate ache to walk hand in hand with those around us, it is like a betrayal. We pour ourselves into relationships, into friendships, into marriages, and we derive immeasurable comfort from the safety we find there. And then death comes raging in and we are suddenly lost. We are suddenly alone.
But there is something magnificent that happens in death. I wouldn’t call it so much a consolation as a glorious display of grace. Currently, our friends who lost their baby have 147 comments and messages on their Facebook walls. Our friend who is grieving the imminent loss of his wife has an email update and prayer distribution list that has dozens and dozens of recipients. And our friend formulating his farewells has seen friends from all avenues of his life rush to his side with comfort and strength. And I am amazed at this juxtaposition. It would seem that as death approaches, relentless and unforgiving, it is at this very moment that the body of Christ comes magnificently to life. As earthly death creeps in and creates a paralyzing vacuum, God overflows our lives with community and love. As death inhales our hope and joy, God exhales grace, strength, and comfort through His hands and feet on this earth. And in that magnificent instant, in that breathtaking display of mercy, death’s threat of aloneness and isolation loses a bit of its sting. It’s not that the grief goes away. It’s still there, powerful and gripping. But amidst the loss, there is a flood of fellowship, communion and solidarity that moves us graciously towards healing.
I hate death. But I love the way God’s family responds. I love the uprising and stirring of hearts that occurs. I am humbled by the tears shed in the name of someone else’s pain. I am moved by the weeping and petitioning that ripples through the church. And I am in awe of the transformation that the body of Christ undergoes as it moves swiftly and profoundly to fill the void that death leaves behind. There is no consolation when death is involved. God knows its power far better than we do. But what a kind and sovereign Lord we have that He would see our grief and provide divine countermeasures that assure us that we are loved, that we are safe, and, most importantly, that we are not alone.