For whatever reasons, I have found myself over the last 5 years in hospitals and funeral homes way too much. In the 5 years I have been leading here in Keller Park, I have officiated 8 funerals, and only 2 weddings.
And I think the thing that bothers me most is that people have been taught so many cliches about God and death that not only are not true, but keep them from properly understanding God's role in the midst of their pain.
Here are some examples:
1) (Loved one) is an angel up in heaven now.
TRUTH: The truth is this, the Bible tells us that we as humans are different than the angels. In fact, we are in a more privileged position as God's treasured possession. This is important to realize for a couple of reasons:
1) We must realize that we are not pawns that God works for his own gain--we are His children, created in His image, and we will always be.
2) There is no redemption plan made for angels. Once they turn away from God (like Satan and his followers), they are fallen. God has made a plan of grace for us, and we should take joy in that!
2) God just wanted/needed (loved one) with Him more than here with us.
TRUTH: This type of thinking has some problems as well.
- First, it paints God out to be needy or selfish, which he is not.
- Second, it sets him up as the stealer of the one we love. If God is Love (1 Jn 4:8), and Just (Is 26:7), than He can't pick and choose who to take from those he loves on the random basis of His desire to be with them.
- Third, it paints God out to be too human, too FINITE. If God is truly infintite, what is the big deal with another 7 years, or 70 years apart from those He loves? To assume that God wants/needs someone RIGHT NOW, trivializes a God that is infinite.
- Finally, this assumes God removes our loved ones from us. God does not take people from us, they leave us because that is the way the world (post-curse) works. We live in a fallen world, where scientific patterns lead us inevitably toward the end of life. Likewise the sinfulness and imperfection of people leads toward often untimely death. The truth is, therefore, that God does not cause death.
3) Why did God allow (loved one) to die?
TRUTH: While God technically could stop any situation from happening, the truth is that He allows the world as a whole to largely play itself out. What is problematic is that when people ask this question, they are implying that God APPROVES of what happened, which is totally not the case.
In Matthew 11, we see the story of Jesus' friend Lazarus passing away. Jesus shows up on the scene and, knowing that He is going to raise him from the dead in 2 minutes, begins to cry. Why the tears? Because he was going to miss Lazarus? Certainly not! He was going to see him alive again in 2 minutes! Jesus cried because he saw the sadness that was the curse of death leveled against those he loved. He cried because death is necessary for this time, because of the curse.
BUT THEN HE MADE ANOTHER WAY! Let's just not assume that God allows our loved ones to die with his approval. God doesn't like death any more than we do!
4) I know that God took (loved one) so that He could do something really good, I just don't know what it is.
TRUTH: Just like above, God doesn't selfishly use death to do something good. The timing of death is granted through science and free will. The truth is: God does something good IN SPITE OF deaths, or THROUGH deaths, but not BECAUSE OF deaths. God takes bad situations and can allow good to come from them, but does not create those bad situations.
It's like a firefighter. His existence helps us feel safer, because we know that if there is a fire, he will be there to help...possibly becoming a hero. However, if we feel like he starts the fires so that he can help us, that's not really that comforting.
We have to get beyond the cliches surrounding death and realize that God hates it just as much as we do. God is our friend, who can empathize with our pain. But he IS NOT the cause of our pain.