One of the most difficult trials each of us will face is the death of a loved one. It is hard to keep things in perspective when death strikes so close to home, isn't it?
Modern man strives frantically to prolong life and overcome death's power. Physicians use extraordinary measures to keep the sick and dying alive just a little longer through wonder drugs, organ transplants, and sophisticated machinery. That was certainly the case when my nephew, Kenneth, was dying of AIDS several years ago.
But death continues harvesting its fruit without prejudice toward age, race, social level, or education. Death continues to be cynical, cruel, and real. No one escapes its cold fingers. Our appointment is sure. Neither money, fame, nor intelligence exempt us from death; everyone succumbs.
How should we respond as believers when a dearly loved Christian relative or friend dies?
Shortly before my father died he suddenly sat up in bed and sang a chorus about heaven. Then he fell back on his pillow and said, "I'm going to be with Jesus, which is far better."
My father had committed his life to Jesus Christ nine years earlier and was confident he would spend eternity with the Lord. I was only ten when he died.
He died just hours before I returned home from a term at boarding school. I had no way of knowing what had happened as I stepped off the train that day and ran home. But as I neared my house I could hear weeping.
My relatives tried to intercept me as I ran through the gate and up to the house; I brushed past them and was in the door before my mother even knew I was back. Tears filled my eyes when I saw my father's expired body lying in front of me.
I felt devastated by my father's death. My world seemed shattered and confused. I was angry at everything and everybody. It isn't fair, I thought. Why couldn't my dad die in old age like other dads?
A missionary delivered the message before my father's burial the next morning. It was only then I felt complete assurance that my father was in heaven.
Oh, I still missed my dad terribly. I still felt the pangs of grief. But I rested in the hope that one day, when my pilgrimage is over, I will see him again.
Grief is a normal part of facing the death of a loved one. We do grieve at the death of other believers, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Jesus gives us these words of comfort: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am" (John 14:1-3). That is our blessed hope as believers!
Yes, the grieving process is absolutely normal for our emotional and physical well-being. But as Christians we do not have to be swallowed up in that grief, or allow anger or bitterness to take root in our hearts.
We can face death with hope, realizing it is not the end. Death is merely earth's door to heaven.