Thursday, May 27, 2010

Divine Suffering: Consolation in Grief

I am in Ohio right now for my brother and sister's high school graduation, and for the last week I have been staying in my sister's room while she is housesitting with a friend somewhere else. My sister's room was my old room when I lived at home. It was the room wherein I grieved my brother's death 12 years ago. And it was the room that my sister laid in over this past year after numerous aggressive chemotherapy treatments, not knowing if she was going to live or die. This room has witnessed a lot of emotional pain and suffering.

I have a friend in Joplin named Millie. She is 96. Every so often she asks me what I think of death. She asks, "Do you think that, when we die, we go straight to heaven...or do you think we will be in a grave, waiting for whatever happens until heaven is a reality...?" I imagine if I were 96 I would want to know the answer to that question, too. And I believe that, as a minister, it is my duty and my privilege to share with Millie (and anyone else who wonders) my conviction of the hope that belongs to every person who knows Christ as Savior.

A few weeks ago in church, my pastor, Steve Finney, mentioned how we don't preach much about heaven anymore. He said that a couple decades ago, when someone would mention heaven, folks would get so excited they couldn't hardly remain in their seats! He's right. But now, we don't think about heaven, we don't teach on it, and we don't really see much need for its hope. And I believe it is because we have become complacent and "at home" in the world. But the fact remains that, biblically, eternal life in heaven with God - a.k.a. salvation - is the crux of our hope in Christ. It is why He came. We would never have needed saving if we had not disobeyed God and brought damnation to our own souls.

I have experienced grief. Every person alive has experienced grief and suffering...or will at some point. And so often people blame God for their pain. We accuse Him of injustice and stoicism. But if you think of it, what must God have felt on that fateful day in the Garden of Eden when humans partook of the forbidden fruit, knowingly bringing the curse of death upon themselves? I believe He grieved that day. Humans had no idea what death was. They had no idea the pain and suffering they would experience because of one stupid decision. But He did. And He hurt because of it. And that is why, on that day, He promised humanity that He would send them a Savior (see Genesis 3:15).

It is magnificent to think that, through all our sorrow, all our pain, all the uncertainty and angst we experience in this life, our hope is that God empathized with our situation and provided a peace, a sure end, an eternal rest for us to look forward to! He offers us comfort and provision and blessings in this life...but those temporary benefits of friendship with God are not the only things we have as Christians! Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."

When Millie asks me what she should expect when her time comes, I offer her the hope of Christ. That hope is this: Jesus Christ took upon Himself OUR sins - all of them - and all of their consequences ("For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" - Romans 6:23). He - the Source of Life itself - willingly LAID DOWN His own life and experienced death for us. And three days later He rose again. He DEFEATED death, hell and the grave. That means that, through faith in HIM, and in Him alone, we no longer have to face death, hell or the grave. They are completely "not applicable" to the Christian. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We do not have to face death. We do not have to fear hell. We do not have to lie hopelessly and helplessly in a grave. We close our eyes in this life and open them in the next. And all this because God felt our anguish - the anguish we brought upon ourselves - and LOVED us enough to redeem us.

"But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, [while we were busy blaming Him for our suffering and pain] Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).