Dying, Death, and Grief

What follows are the ruminations not of a bystander but of one who is immersed and invested – the repentant one – Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner.

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Two things we all experience, as human beings, are dying along with the death that attends it and grief. These are common to us all. But, while they are common to us all are they embraced by all as an opportunity for “common-union” with the Lord and with one another?

Perhaps you have asked this question. Perhaps you have asked what the purpose of death and the grieving that accompanies it is in Gods’ sovereign purpose: “If death is conquered and Christ is raised from the dead, then why do we still die?” Perhaps you have wondered how, since, death and our undeniable response of grief is part of our existence, we are to relate to both of them.

These are the questions I ask. These are not questions I am an expert in answering – glibly or otherwise. These questions describe my journey of salvation. A journey I am currently walking. I am a pilgrim. I am a faithful struggler.

Is it an awful thing to suggest such things? Yes, it is an awe-full thing. It is the territory to be journeyed by all who “travail and are heavy laden” by dying, death, and the necessity to grieve. All who profess faith in Christ Jesus must journey through these precincts.

Such questioning is right and proper when accompanied by an open, desirous, and teachable spirit (a repentant heart). Such repentance leads to illumination and bears the fruit of deified life. Or, to put it more specifically, deified dying, death, and grieving.

13 But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; 17 then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18)

So, “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The difficulty with our experience of death lies in the fact that what is true in a penultimate sense presents itself to us as what is true in an ultimate sense. We tend to trust what we can measure with our senses and our intellect and our emotions. These measuring instruments provide us with what we consider are a reliable road map for the way to interpret and live the present, the days ahead, and the rest of our life.

However, our Christian tradition speaks a message that is different. The Spirit says that death has been defeated and life is victorious. The Spirit offers us a way to live in the present and journey forward that doesn’t match up with our senses, reason, and emotions.

St. Paul did not see death as an obstacle. He viewed death, however it might come, as being, by the death of Christ Jesus, transformed into an opportunity for the proclamation of the victory of death over life.

This puts us in the position of needing to seek illumination regarding not only death but grieving as well.

Once again, that simply flies in the face of what is true in the limited/penultimate sense. People actually die. If people continue to die then we tend to conclude that the victory of life over death has, somehow, been “postponed” to sometime in the “future.”

But that is not the case. The presence of death in the historical sense is redeemed by God the Father in Christ Jesus and used as an opportunity to make known the mystery of what is true in the eternal sense.

So, the question is not “if” we will die (in the historical sense). Rather, the question is “how” shall we “die.”

By the way, this is not a justification for responding passively to the approach of physical death. No. We fight for life with every heart beat and breathe in the most authentic ways and must make decisions about how to authentically engage in that battle in light of this larger mysterious context.

So the question is not “if” we will grieve (in the historical sense). Rather, the question is “how” shall we “grieve.” Grieving, in like manner, is not only the healthy, life-creating way to engage death but also the journey we take in order to do so. As C.S. Lewis wrote to a friend, “grief is not a state but a process – like a walk in a winding valley with a new prospect at every bend.”

The question is, whether or not we will we live in accordance with God’s embrace and infusion of the event of historical death with eternal life?? Shall we seek to proclaim persuasively in our historical dying that death has been defeated by living out that event with grace, mercy, love, gentleness, self-control, etc.?

Our historical death is not an obstacle to the message of the victory of life over death. Just the opposite. Our grieving is not to be a proclamation that death has won. That would be grieving as those who have no hope. No. Just the opposite. It is, perhaps, the deepest opportunity, in a practical sense, to testify to the fact that life has won and death has lost by using the event of historical death to testify against itself ! !

Be assured, there will come a day in history when this ministry of mysterious proclamation will come to an end and there will be no more physical death. In the meantime we have a ministry of mysterious proclamation to accomplish by the grace of God.

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; 3 and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21.1-4)

And so, in this present time, we approach what is true in the limited sense, the experiences of dying, death, and grieving, with the declaration of what is true in the unlimited sense, the mystery of the victory of life over death, not someday but, rather, beginning today.

And even now the Lord, who is the Coming One is present, along with all who are alive and continue, uninterrupted and completely unencumbered, their ministry in Him. Though they are dead yet they are only “sleeping.” Indeed, they are alive and enjoying the Sabbath rest of Christ Jesus. This “resting in peace” is the quality of life of those who NOW minister, and reign with Christ and by whom we are surrounded and supported.

So, “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The question is not just “How then shall we live?” and “How shall we rejoice?” The question is also, “Will we die a healthy, life-creating death?” and “Will we grieve in a healthy, life-creating way?” Or to rephrase it, “How then shall we die (and how then shall we grieve) so those around us might believe that death is conquered?!”

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3 thoughts on “Dying, Death, and Grief

  1. As a parent who has lost a child, I no longer fear death. I just pray that it will be quick and not a prolonged illness. I know where I am going and that I will see our son again. I know that he loved God and served Him. In my mind, I picture Jason with his hands raised to God in worship the Sunday before he died. People knew without Jason even saying anything that he was a Christian. He was kind, loving, thoughtful, intelligent, everything we ever could have asked for in a son. I don’t know why God didn’t protect him as I prayed.

    In my opinion, we need to be cautious in in our “encouragement” to Christians who are deeply grieving on how they “should” grieve. Many times our encouragement comes from our own sense of awkwardness around deep grief and is more of an encouragement for the bereaved to “move on” from something that makes us extremely uncomfortable. Bible verses sometimes are used to make the bereaved feel as if they are not supposed to grieve deeply over the death of a loved one, like we are supposed to rejoice at the death of our loved one instead of being allowed the time and and having adequate support during our time of grief. Bereaved parents learn early on to mask or hide grief so that they are not judged and so that others will be more comfortable around them.

    The vacuum created by fellow Christians who were uncomfortable with our grief and disappeared from our lives created far more grief than anyone could imagine. Is it the ministry of fellow Christians to put pressure on the bereaved to make sure they are grieving in a “health, life-creating” way or is it the ministry of fellow Christians to be present and to bear one another’s burdens and to not be weary in well-doing during a time when support is needed most?

    I do not condemn, because I, too, have walked the walk of mentally encouraging the bereaved to “move on” before experiencing the death of our son. I have repented my own impatience, lack of empathy and understanding. I’m just saying that we need to make sure our fellow Christians who deeply grieve are adequately supported by those who are the hands and feet of God for as long as they need without feeling like they are not grieving properly.

    • Thank you for your insightful comment. Your point is well-taken.

      Suffering puts us in the place resisting paradox and mystery and opting to attempt to find and embrace an answer. My intention was to articulate a mystery not propose a solution. If I have fallen short in that endeavor please forgive.

  2. Such a big and rich subject! I wanted to make a response to every paragraph. I shall restrain myself, however, to this:
    “Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are thy ways.
    Who going through the vale of misery, use it for a well; and the pools are filled with water.”
    Psalm 84: 5-6 BCP 1928 (Coverdale, I think)

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