Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Sobering Day...

I saw this picture today and it reminds me of an uncomfortable truth: Death is real, and it's out there waiting for each of us. Perhaps in the shadows and away from our immediate attention... but it is still there all the same. And while it may seem silent when it is "waiting," the timing of its appointment with each one of us is still uncertain, and likely coming sooner than we plan.

We got the news yesterday afternoon that the father of one of our son's friends died yesterday morning. He was a wonderful guy, 48 years old, friendly and hospitable, a beautiful family, successful in business, in apparent great health... and suddenly - without warning - gone.

We heard the news, and were stunned - shocked. Throughout the afternoon, we prayed that it wasn't true... that there was some awful mistake. Mrs. Doulos made a number of calls to try and get confirmation without success, and we (not so secretly) hoped that we just had it all wrong.

And then, the confirmation. And the sinking, heart-sick feeling as the awful reality began to sink in.

We ache for his wife and children, and the unimaginable road they have in front of them. And what can we say? It's all beyond comprehension, and mere words can't capture the pain and loss. How can we even describe it? How can we get our minds around what this family must be thinking? Loraine Boettner described this condition well in his book Immortality:
"We set out on the journey of life with high hopes and soaring ambitions. Life seems rosy and death seems far away. Year after year life runs its accoustomed course, smoothly and serenely. We read of thousands dying from starvation in India, and of other thousands that drown in China; but those places are far away and the people are not know to us. A neighbor down the street dies. That causes us to stop and think. We send flowers and feel sorry for the family. But still it does not affect us directly, and we soon continue with our work and play. There develops within us a sense of immunity to tragedy and death.

The suddenly the bottom drops out of our world. Perhaps a mother or father, or some other relative or friend is taken, leaving a aching void. Many of us have already had that experience. We have watched the changing face and have listened helplessly to the shortening breath. We have spoken or looked the last good-bye, and then, in an instant, the departing one has passed out of sight and out of hearing, into the world of the unknown... A short time ago the one we loved was here, going about his work or speaking to us; and now, perhaps in one moment, he is gone - gone so very, very far away. What baffling thoughts rush in upon the mind in those moments pressing for an answer! But there is no answer in either reason or experience..."
All of us have felt the TOTAL INADEQUACY of saying or doing anything really meaningful in these circumstances. And we feel inadequate in the circumstance because we ARE in adequate. Boettner goes on to describe it this way:
"At such time it may be that ... [a person] cries out, 'Why did this have to happen to me?' It is hard to answer such questions to the satisfaction and comfort of those who ask it, for the simple reason that at such a time those who ask it are not normal. It is difficult for the mind that is shocked beyond comprehension to be reasonable. The breaking heart wants none of our logic. It wants comfort and peace. Above all, it wants to turn back the page, to recall the life that has sped - and this cannot be. Death is so permanent. There is no recall. It comes to you and yours as it has come to millions of others - it is inevitable. It may come as a thief in the night, or it may approach slowly after ample warning. It may come early in life, or after years of happiness. But come it must. The only way to escape it is never to be born."
So our hearts break for this family... and the horror of death reminds us once more of what's really important in life.

Someone wise said that death was like a clock ticking... heard only on occasion when someone is young, but then as time passes and the reality of life becomes clearer, its tick is heard more often - and the older we get the more that we hear it. Eventually, it becomes all one hears. Perhaps that's a good picture, and why many public clocks in the past were decorated with mottos such as ultima forsan (roughly, "perhaps the last [hour]"). The clock serves as a reminder of the shortness of life - and the inevitability of its passing.

But the truth of that thought doesn't diminish death's shock and horror, or its pain. Boettner wisely pointed out that "...The Bible alone has an answer for the thoughts that come with such perplexity and insistence." And for those of us who follow Jesus, the Bible we believe and the Lord it reveals calls us beyond just shared grief, empathy and pain in response to death. We have the message of LIFE found in Jesus, and the answer to the problem of death. The only question really is this: Will we share it before it's too late?

If we listen, the "ticking of the clock" reminds us of the REAL need of those around us of the reality of death:
  • The spiritual death that we are all born into
  • The physical death that we all must face
  • The eternal death that still waits for everyone apart from those who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ
It's not pleasant. But it is true. And, in the words of one of my friends, it is our unsaved friend's "most urgent need." And Death calls out to us not just to remember the shortness of our own lives, but to remind us of our URGENT call to tell others the truth while there is still time to do so.

Last week I posted the "sobering thought" widget in the right-hand column of the blog... it humbled and reminded me of the need of those around me to be delivered from spiritual death and adopted into God's family through the work of Jesus. It reminds me that God is able to save and deliver, and that He calls me to participate in the process. And today, while I've been drafting this, the counter has run to over 1,500. Today, for me, one of those numbers has a face on it. And -
I'm grieved that one of those numbers is someone that I knew...
I'm humbled that there are so many others where my heart has not been broken... and
I'm resolved again to fulfill my part in God's plan to pray, and to share the truth to those who are in desperate need around me.
So pray with me, if you will, for this family. And pray also with me that "the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened" anew to feel the need around us enough to be moved to new action - for the sake of the Name of our Lord.

Think of this little reminder, if you will, as a voice from the shadows.

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