(For the sake of discretion, I will not be very specific about the local tragedy I am citing. I recognize many are impacted by this tragic death and I write this with respect, love, and hope that some will stumble across this post and be drawn to the Hope found in Jesus Christ.)
“…so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” (From 1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Very recently, my wife and I received notice that an adult our kids were very familiar with in a different context died very suddenly and tragically. We were asked to share this information with them as soon as possible in order to help them process the very noticeable absence this individual’s death would create for them. I had met this person, but I did not know them personally. My kids, however, were particularly fond of this very kind, very sweet person.
The unexpected nature of it makes it more tragic.
My plan tonight, while “mommy” was out at the Pathmakers Church Growing Roots Women’s Bowling Extravaganza (that might not be what they called it…) was for the kids and I to play Nintendo Wii, eat chocolate fudge popsicles, and watch the next episode of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars after their baths. We were going to have fun!
But the email came while mommy was out. Followed by a phone call from mommy. And mommy couldn’t really get back until after bed time. So, daddy was going on stage solo tonight. And the topic tonight was “Death.”
Every parent dreads having to discuss two subjects with their kids… Sex and Death. Well, thanks to good youth ministry training from my youth pastor days and a fantastic seminar with Dr. Veronica Johnson, sex is a much easier topic to cover with my kids.
Death, however, is a lot more difficult. There may be a lot of cultural and age/stage developmental reasons for that, but one theological reason that Death is so much more difficult to talk about than Sex is that Sex is an original part of the plan for humanity… Death is not.
Hear me out.
Sex, when practiced in the context of God’s design as demonstrated in Genesis 1 & 2 and reiterated by Jesus and the Apostles, is very, very good.
But Death… Death feels wrong to us. At least as humans, Death feels out of place. Our self-awareness makes Death particularly difficult in ways the rest of nature does not respond. Even cultures that “celebrate Death” do so in very fearful ways. Death is not our friend, Death is our enemy. Death is a consequence of a horrible Curse the first humans subjected all of us to because of their rejection of God (Genesis 3). Death is wrong. We know it in the depths of our soul. It shouldn’t be this way.
Death is unrecoverable loss. Death is abandonment. Death is final. Or, at least, that’s what many people think.
And, it makes me sad that, in response to this local tragedy, so many people, themselves without hope, are going to have to try to console themselves and their children tonight and tomorrow with statements like “well, we’ll have good memories” and “Death is just a part of Life.” They’ll call this “being brave” or “being honest.” And what are the kids supposed to do with their feelings? Be “brave?” What do kids DO when they feel overwhelmed by sadness and need something to DO to help themselves console themselves? What? Be “honest?” Do they tell others the same resigned statements?
I feel bad for them. My kids got something very different tonight. My kids experienced Hope. It’s a Hope that means they don’t have to “mourn like those who have no hope” (as the older translations of the previous verse go). In fact, all I did was help them unpack another gift God gives them from the Hope they’ve already found for themselves in Jesus Christ. A gift that makes them truly brave and truly honest.
Tonight, I consoled my children with The Resurrection of Jesus, His powerful triumph over Death, and what the Apostle Paul had to say about what that means for followers of Jesus in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 (such a great chapter!).
We talked about their feelings, we talked about how it’s okay to feel sad. We talked about how that sadness makes sense… why? Not because “death is a part of life” but because Death is NOT supposed to be part of life for us. Because Death is our enemy, Death is not God’s original plan for human beings, and because one day, Death is will be defeated and will completely cease to exist in a beautiful but difficult to interpret glimpse of a New Heaven and New Earth described in the New Testament Book of Revelation. There is so much about the “afterlife” we don’t know, but the Bible tells us that a few things WILL NOT be there… sorrow, pain, and Death! (Revelation 21)
We talked about how, when we feel very sad, there is a lot we can do. We talked about how we can pray. Psalm 34 has a great verse that reminds us that “God is close to the brokenhearted” and how because of Christ’s Death AND Resurrection, we can “boldly approach the throne” of God (Hebrews 4). We have a God who loves us, hears us, and responds to us if we can learn to listen.
We talked about how we can pray, not just for ourselves, but that we can pray for this person’s family. We talked about how they must feel very sad, shocked, and confused. We talked about how the only person that can heal that kind of pain is God Himself.
We talked about how this person’s coworkers will feel very, very sad. And we talked about how many of my kids’ own friends will feel very sad. So, my kids caught the sense that they themselves weren’t the only ones feeling sad, but that many others were, too.
We talked about Hope. And Hope made them grieve differently. Better.
“But Jesus can help them,” said one of my kids.
“But some of them don’t know Jesus… some don’t even know how to pray,” I replied.
Ah! Something clicked in my kids. They understood that they have Hope. But that some others did not. And they wanted others to have Hope, too. And so, my sweet children, teary-eyed, almost in unison said “can we pray for them all?!” I smiled and said, “yes, let’s do that.” And so, my broken-hearted children prayed deep, heartfelt prayers for the family of the person that died, for the co-workers, for their little friends, and for, as my boy put it, “everyone on earth who is sad about this, too.”
It was so special. In their brokenness, their sense of Hope was greater than their sense of loss. It was great enough to console them, but it overflowed in a desire to console others. It gave them, as children, a desire to minister to others. So cool. So very cool.
The rest of the night was subdued, but not somber. We talked periodically as they had questions. Some questions were easier to answer than others. And bed time was tricky as more questions came up. But, the Resurrection of Jesus was the anchor. A beautiful, secure, and firm foundation in this unexpected storm of emotions. And it was a channel for their energy to be expressed in positive, life-giving ways.
My kids mourned. My kids will mourn again tomorrow. And periodically beyond, I expect they will grieve as memories return. But they mourned differently. They grieved as those who have Hope, real Hope, the kind of Hope that only comes from knowing Jesus, God in Human Form, who defeated Death and promises us the same victory to us if we will follow Him.
Someday, my kids will have to mourn the deaths of people they deeply love, and not just someone with whom they had regular contact. I hope and pray that those experiences are far, far away in the very distant future. Those times will be harder than anything else they will have ever faced. But they will have to face Death. And likely their own. But they’ll face it like followers of Christ get to face Death… with an understanding that Death will be undone, with a Hope of a perfect afterlife… and with a smirk… a snarky, defiant, yet entirely Biblical and righteous taunt…
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
At least, that’s what I was thinking as I opened their popsicles…