Vale of TearsPart Three: Approaching the Final Transition
Eternal Home Comings
I HAVE LOOKED looked at various issues related to death from a practical point of view in Appendix Three, but in this section, we will be exploring some of the spiritual aspects associated with it.
Western society is more understanding than it used to be, but many families and communities continue to send out unspoken signals to indicate that self-control and decorum should at all costs be preserved. But all too often such restraint can leave people in more emotional turmoil than in supposedly less developed societies, where more open expressions of grief are encouraged.
We look at death from the wrong point of view. We think of how much we’re missing the one going home. We’re not looking at it from God’s point of view: a child’s coming home, and Heaven is excited!
Ruth Bell Graham
Most of us warm to the quote above, not least because it comes from one of God’s elder stateswomen when she was on the point of entering the glories of Heaven. It takes more grace to accept the fact that some people’s earthly lives are, quite simply, a great deal shorter than others.1
Death probes our convictions and intensifies what we believe about this life and the next. In ultimate terms, death represents the drawing together of the strands by which the Lord has lovingly led us, and is therefore the prelude to an infinitely richer phase of our life. The Lord has been good to us in this world – and He will be no less so in the next!
For most of us who love the Lord Jesus, therefore, it is less a matter of death itself holding any terrors so much as our concern for those who are left behind, and our entirely understandable fear of the process itself of dying.
Differentiating between death the “last and greatest foe,” which the Lord Jesus has overcome for us, and death the “gateway to everlasting life”2 can be a source of great tension. There are undoubtedly times when we are called to resist the “angel of death” – that is, the enemy’s attempt to take us home prematurely. It is entirely appropriate then to pray with both urgency and authority against precious lives being snatched away before their time. In his pen-portrait of Jesus’ ministry, Luke reminds us that,
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. Acts 10:38 3
At the other end of the scale, there is no shame whatsoever in recognising that there are other occasions when God really is calling someone home – in which case it is right to bless and even speed them on their way through our prayers, and not to make life still more painful and confusing for those most directly affected by insisting that God should be healing them when in reality He isn’t. May the Lord give us the discernment in each situation to know how He would have us respond.
Reflect and Pray
When Jesus appears,
we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is . . .
Love is made complete among us
so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement,
because in this world
we are like Him.
1 John 3:2 4:17
1 In A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken relates the heart-moving story of a couple whose love for each other led them to pursue the very opposite of a modern fast-lane, two-career lifestyle. Rather than neglecting each other in their quest for personal fulfilment, Sheldon (Van) and his wife developed an all-consuming love for each other, which, in turn, has had a profound influence on the way many of his million-plus readers have come to view love and marriage. Converted to Christianity through the influence of C.S. Lewis and others, Van later came to regard their love as somewhat selfish, but his book is more than just a classic love story: it is a serious examination of bereavement at its most intense.
2 1 Corinthians 15:26, Psalm 116:15
3 James Rutz’s exciting chronicle of what God is doing around the world highlights a small but increasing number of cases in which believers are raised from the dead in response to fervent believing prayer. Rutz J. (2005) Megashift. Empowerment Press, Colorado.