by Mike Pyatt
Attendance at a recent memorial service for a three month old infant evoked emotions captured by C.S. Lewis’s graphic anatomical metaphor, “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” He understood that our frail, vulnerable frame is no match for this mortal assault. It’s wholly unfashionable to discuss death. That subject isn’t wildly popular in most circles. We’d rather prattle on about politics or Facebook inanity. Ignoring it hasn’t served us well. In fact, by avoiding timely dialogue, death, our oldest relentless nemesis, materializes more abrupt than ever when it arrives, unannounced. The Christian’s hope is in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.Skeptics hail death as further proof that God, if there’s one, either doesn’t care, inflicting us with a torturous ending, or we’re solo on an uncharted flight. We’ve debated the subject for centuries. It’s easy to be philosophical when death ravages others from afar.It’s like tornadoes. When it depredates tornado alley geography, we’re unsurprised. How dare it wreak havoc on our dwelling place in Natrona County. That’s unnatural.
What if death visits a sweet, cherub like, three month old infant, who inexplicably didn’t wake up one morning? Without warning. No apparent malady. Most mortals believe that’s not the way it should go. Some protest, “Doesn’t death know better?” The struggle to understand it commences at the expiration of a loved ones last gasp. Surely God wouldn’t leave us so vulnerable. Would He? For those moribund members in our three score plus ten club, we perceive we’re on the far side of our allotted days. Our death would surprise no one-especially the undertaker. The “natural order” of life anticipates that a child will outlive parents. When this order is reversed, grief shocks one’s reverie for years. Some never recover from the devastation. When it strikes an apparent innocent life, we tend to recoil, first in denial, then the dreaded question ensues. ”Why?” For those without hope, it persists. Once it strikes, it lingers ephemerally, then takes flight unceremoniously into the night. Those vexing inseparable twins, grief and mourning, demand squatters’ rights simultaneously upon death’s arrival. Denial of either, prolongs the healing process. Where does one go for solace and comfort when that duo assails us? Those who’ve lost a love one report prolonged visceral responses, like recalling indelible memories of a loved one’s “kiss still on their lips,” or “yesterday’s touch remained on their finger tips.” Like a fingerprint-uniquely crafted encounter, one rarely surmounts.
The Old Testament recounts King David’s mournful pleading to God, to spare his stricken seven day old son; smitten for David’s revealed foul deeds. But to no avail. He ultimately found comfort, after fasting and weeping, concluding, ”But now he is dead: why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” This pedagogy’s for our edification. His son was now in God’s presence, where David would one day rejoin him for eternity. Never alone, God ultimately offers comfort, though it may circuitously pass through “Afflictionville” en route to our disabling circumstance. Comfort sits by our side; holds our hand; abides with us until the pain subsides, or departs. In the Christian’s realm, that assignment’s relegated to the ever-present Holy Spirit.
Evangelicals understand it’s the body of Christ, the loving brethren, that theological synergy, ministering to those jarred and battered by the bumptious potholes of life and death, to which all are subjugated. There’s no discounting the reality of grief and mourning when death darkens our pathway. We’re not alone. Our affliction may one day be a source of strength and comfort to others similarly situated. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. He mourned even though He knew He’d soon raise him from the dead. Jesus loved him. Grief’s idiosyncratic. Some appear inconsolable. Our calling may be listening. This Divinely inspired anatomy evinces that we’ve two ears and one mouth for good cause. Placing a reassuring hand on the shoulder may eclipse well intended, often awkward words. Most can commiserate with those left behind after death. One can sincerely, though inelegantly, utter, “I’ll pray for you.”
Obscured in the fog of pain and grief is the brutal fact of death. It’s a statistic until it knocks on our door. John Donne’s brief poem Death, Be Not Proud, insist that death is not the final sleep, but the final awakening for the faithful. One of our noblest presidents, Abraham Lincoln’s life was woefully punctuated by his lifelong dance with loss and grief. On December 23,1862, he writes to a bereaved young woman, “Dear Fanny, It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave father,” continuing, “In this sad world of ours sorrow comes to all… Perfect relief is not possible, except with time… You are sure to be happy again.” Lincoln was acquainted with sorrow, he understood the depth of personal pain, and was undoubtedly familiar with Isaiah 53:3, describing our suffering savior, acquainted with sorrow and affliction. Unshakeable hope. The variety one finds as refuge from death, that uninvited interloper, who’ll assuredly visit us, sooner or later. Caution! Spend less time lingering on the therapist couch, counselor’s chair, the bartender’s stool, or extend periods of mournful languishing. Start at the feet of Jesus.
With rare exceptions, most claw “tooth and nail” clinging to life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor, theologian, and indefatigable resistance leader against Hitler, said “Death reveals that the world is not as it should be, but that it stands in the need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death.” Bonhoeffer died at the hands of Hitler’s death squad, at age 39. Death is dreadful only for those who live in dread and fear. In this cosmopolitan, haute couture, secular culture, it sounds addle-brained to propose one should fear Him who holds the keys to Hades and Death. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org