(Excerpted and edited from a recent funeral for a vibrant woman who died at age 57, a beloved Christian wife, mother, and friend – shared by request)
So, I ask “Why?” Maybe you have, too.
The mystery of this untimely and shocking death is unraveled as we see where God is in this, the eternal view. God has loved this planet so much that he gave us humans and even nature itself freedom or free will, and it has gone amok. What God does best is to redeem our lives through Jesus Christ. He has entered our pain, lived our lives, died our deaths, been tested by his own freedom of choice, so that through faith in him we don’t go back to the Garden of Eden but forward to the New Jerusalem. Jesus wasn’t wracked by cancer but by nails, torture, and the cross. He did all this to undo the falleness of creation that started in Eden.
God warned Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they did, and all of us have been paying the price ever since. God, in God’s mercy, even put cherubim, angelic creatures, with flaming swords to guard the entrance back into Eden. God didn’t want Adam and Eve to know any more about evil. They unfortunately knew enough, but, more mercifully, God didn’t want them to eat from the other tree in the Garden: The Tree of Life. God knew that if they ate from the Tree of Life, they would live forever knowing Good and Evil, and that would be hell.
God wants us live forever knowing only good, and the only way for us fallen yet magnificent creatures to do that is to die. Jesus came as God-in-the-flesh to make a way for us to have eternal life in a place where there is no sadness, pain, heartache, or anything bad. God came among us. So the Gospel is that God doesn’t cause anything bad. Life or evil does it to us. If God caused sickness and arbitrarily picked this person or that one to have cancer or a heart attack, it would make God out to be a child-abuser, and that’s not the kind of God we have. God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to conquer death.
We, therefore, are not those who say in the midst of anyone’s death that this was “meant to be,” or God’s will. No, God’s will is for us to live forever and there to be perfect paradise. There’s a cartoon that sums up what I’m trying to say. In “Broom Hilda” we see that one of the characters is pulling on a rope. He says, “Help, Gaylord! I can’t pull this rope!” Gaylord’s response is quite convenient as he’s sitting in his recliner under the shade, “Then it’s not the right time! You see, my merry buffoon, everything has a master plan, a proper time. We can beat our heads against the wall trying to make things happen but they won’t! Then one day when we least expect it, things will fall perfectly into place. So relax. Quit struggling. Follow the great invisible scheme of things.” After all this verbiage, our merry buffoon is still trying to keep Broom Hilda from falling. Broom Hilda is still dangling at the end of the rope and our merry buffoon is still holding on with all his might, but he is paralyzed by Gaylord’s fatalism, waiting for the great invisible scheme of things to fall into place. Still pulling hard, he looks down to Broom Hilda and asks a question that is totally ridiculous, but it’s the best he can offer with such a dim fatalistic pre-planned view of life. He asks, “Care for a ham sandwich?”
You see, when we think that there’s a pre-set plan for life, that death is somehow masterminded by God, we’re no more than mere puppets on a horrible string, without any free will and we end up with a God that cares very little about us. We know better. A ham sandwich just isn’t enough to help us out of our dilemma. We need a Savior. The food we need is found in the sacrament of Holy Communion, a broken body and shed blood, Christ’s gift of himself to make all of life take on its own sacramental nature. The message for us today in the brevity of life is to make the most of all the time we have, living as if each grain in the hourglass is precious. Carpe Diem! To seize the day is to have faith.
But faith in and of itself is no guarantee of physical healing or we would see 200 to 300 year old saints walking around. Lazarus who was dead for 4 days and resurrected would still be around today if healing only depended on how much faith one has. After all, Jesus said that if we have faith the size of a tiny mustard seed we could make a mountain jump into the sea. Most people I know have that small modicum of faith, yet they have died. Of course, we’re grateful for the miracles that happen, but we have to face the fact that sometimes the best result of faith is through death – to be in that New Jerusalem, not back in the Garden of Eden. The New Jerusalem is a better place than we can dare imagine!
Now, I know that we don’t want to be too critical of those who find comfort in thinking that God controls everything, but there are plenty of us who find more comfort in a God who loves us enough to let life happen, even death. We believe in a God who through Jesus’ incarnation has entered our pain and conquered it so that we can experience God’s fullest expression of healing for eternity. God has given us more than a temporary ham sandwich of a fix. God gives us eternal hope that lasts through Christ. So when we ask “Why?” when bad things happen to people there is no adequate answer except to know that God never causes pain. According to James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”
God wants the very best for us. I know that our circumstance today doesn’t seem like that, but I also know that this family loved their wife and mother with a devotion that was ready for her to not be in anymore pain. She had fought the good fight. Together this family and host of friends did everything imaginable for a different result, but today is not a failure. It is a victory. Having done all that we humans could have done, God did what God does best. God did not “take” our precious one. God “received” her and she is well. When we next see her it will be as if no time has passed at all because in heaven there is no sense of time. In the meantime, we will wait with hope knowing that Jesus is with us and conquers all evil, sadness, and even death. To us belongs the victory, not the falsely boasting grave. Believe and endure for in Christ is full salvation. Amen.