Once Again Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Posted: 2013/10/27 in Christianity
Tags: , , , ,

As I prepare for my 7th funeral in 8 weeks, I am dealing with something a bit different. The previous funerals were for folk who had lived long and full lives (one was 103 years old). The funeral I officiate tomorrow is for a woman in her mid-40s. Because she was relatively young, this feels different than a funeral for someone of venerable age. This is more difficult, and not because of her age. It’s more difficult because her death, at her age, is so difficult for her family to make sense of.

When an old person dies we can write it off to the ravages of age and mileage. The notion that we just break down and eventually die is accepted rather easily. But when death, especially the sudden death of an otherwise healthy person, occurs, we feel more compelled to blame something. There has to be a reason.

Seeking to understand untimely death is not only fruitless but often leads to some very bad theology. What makes me cringe almost every time is voiced something like, “God must have wanted to bring her home,” or “His time was up, so God took him home.” While I get that people, especially grieving family, say these things because they seem logical and affirm the understanding that “God is in control” (which is thought to be of comfort), I am still a bit horrified by the implications of God taking someone home because his time had come.

(By the way, if you are a Calvinist or other flavor of believer in predestination, I suggest you change channels, since I will only annoy you from this point forward.)

My biggest problem with the God bringin’ ’em home thing is that for God to take the initiative in someone’s death means that God is a murderer. If I took the initiative in someone’s death, that’s what I’d be labelled. To my knowledge, God is not a murderer.

So . . . what is both theologically sensible and of pastoral help?

First, asking who or what is responsible for a death beyond the brokenness and fragility of our human condition is a fruitless question to ask. We die because we are break down in ways we cannot recover from. Our dilapidation is not God’s fault (indeed, the brokenness of creation is what God intends on fixing).

Second, the more fruitful question to ask is how and where we go from the point of crisis when the death of a loved one takes place. Once we do this, all the promises of God unfold before us, from being God’s people, as promised during the Exodus, to being shepherded to green pastures and cool waters, as spoken in Psalm 23, to the granting of peace beyond understanding, as promised by Jesus, to the inevitable defeat of death through Christ’s resurrection. God cares. God loves. God provides.

The best thing to offer a grieving family is a hopeful future based in God’s promises and the experience of believers down through the centuries.

What more useful thing can I possibly offer?


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