Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sometimes Death Comes As a Friend…Today Is Not One of Those Days

Reflections at the funeral of Casey Wood.
[Casey was a 20-yr-old college student who was killed in a car wreck last Sunday night. His brother David, 17, died unexpectedly 6 years ago.]

There are many times when we come to this moment with a sense of relief and gratitude, even a profound joy. I have often stood on this platform in this auditorium where the church known as the Fellowship in the Pass meets with a deep sense of praise to God for the “precious death” of one of His saints, because sometimes Death comes as a friend.

To say that Death comes as a friend is not to say that there is not always sadness, for Death always means a separation from the one we have known and loved in this life. Separation involves sadness. As a husband and father, who sometimes is called upon to travel away from home for a few days or weeks, I know how I miss my family, even on those short trips. For those whom we truly love, the old saying is true…absence does make the heart grow fonder.

But one might ask, “how is it possible to view Death as a friend?” How can our enemy be our friend? Recently in a brief span of time from the first of November to mid-January, I had twelve funerals. Some of those funerals were for elderly folks who had lived long lives and their bodies had simply worn out and the time had come to depart and be with Jesus. One of those was my own Mother. At times like that Death is a welcome friend.

Several of those who left us in that span of time were people who had cancer. The pain and suffering were horrendous. Often we stood at the bedsides and prayed that God in His grace would end their suffering and take them home. When Death comes as the end of suffering and the doorway into the presence of the Lord, it comes as a welcome friend.

Yes, sometimes Death comes as a friend…today is not one of those days. Forgive me for stating the obvious. For we all, from Casey’s parents, siblings, and family to his friends and their friends, gather in this moment with exactly the same thoughts on our minds, how does one even cope with the sudden tragic death of one child? And then, to have it happen again, like a lightning bolt on a clear and cloudless night…How can we face this? How can we go on? Is there any hope? Can we make it through?

Are there any answers? Yes, there are answers. But there are no explanations. When I was young I tended to shout my answers. Now, more often, I whisper them. Not because they are any less true. In fact, just the opposite. Now they have been engrained upon my heart from a lifetime of God’s gracious guidance into His truth. Prayerfully and with a profound sense of weakness I would like to suggest to you, no, I’d like to proclaim to you, not with a loud voice, but with a gentle reminder what I believe God has shown me over these last four days. This is how God has comforted me and I share it with you.

First, let me say that the knowledge that others have experienced this same kind of loss is of some help but not a great deal. One dominant recurring thought for me over these days has been of those families who have had sons at war who have received that dreaded knock on the front door, not once but twice. Most of us have seen the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and we know the sometimes extraordinary lengths to which the government will go to avoid that happening. Or we know of other accidents where whole families have been instantly taken, or the pages of Scripture where Job lost seven sons and three daughters and all his possessions in one day. This knowledge is some help, but it does not in any way reduce our pain.

So what are the answers? It is uniquely revealing to me that when I stood in this same place with this same family and sought to give hope in the midst of tragedy just a few short years ago, my thoughts had been led by the Lord to exactly the same places they are today. I went back and looked at what I said at David’s funeral and the message is the same. For me that brings a large measure of comfort. God spoke to me through His Word with the same comfort and hope then as He does now. How good it is to know that God truly is the same yesterday, today and forever.

I mentioned Job. In exactly the same type of situation we have here, Job held fast to His faith in God. If you are looking for answers today this is the first and greatest answer:

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.’… Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 1:20-21; 2:10)
“Though He slay me, I will hope in him….” (Job 13:15)

How was it possible for Job to respond like that? The answer can only be found in the words of God Himself to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” God gave Job the grace and the peace that passes all understanding to hold fast to His faith in the most difficult of times.

Can we hear these words from one who has walked through this valley of the shadow of death before us and accept them as truth? Can we say through tears that never seem to stop and lips that quiver even as we form the words, “Blessed be the name of the Lord?” Oh, God, please give us the grace to worship you.

The second answer, I pray will come to you even if nothing more than a sliver of light into your darkness, that one day will emerge as the brightness of the sun.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. …. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. …. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …. But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:18-39)

I leave you with the Word of God. It is enough.