My first real memory of death is that of my beautiful green parakeet, Misha Monroe MacArthur, at the jaws of the family Dachshund. Other family pets had died before, but this was the first time my pet had died. I placed Misha in a shoe box with his toys and buried him between the houses. I don’t recall if I had a ceremony.
There have been many deaths since, both pets and people. Such is life under the sun (Ecclesiastes). My mother, grandparents, and father have all died. Other relatives and acquaintances have died. But this past week I experienced another first: a friend and former student lost his battle with failing flesh. He was in his early thirties: so young. I’ve little idea how to mourn this loss.
I am reminded of King David, praying over his son, sick unto death (2 Samuel 12). While his son still lived, David cried and fasted. As soon as his son died, he got up and ate. David’s servants were confused by this and asked, “What is this thing that you have done” (v. 21)? David answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (vv. 22-23). Viewing from under the sun, death is a one way street: one enters it and does not return.
We are temporal; the body dies. We are eternal; we can live. For many, though, eternity does not lead to life, but to death, for true life, eternal life, a life with no seeds of death in it, is only available in a loving, trusting relationship with the One who is life. Apart from Christ there can be no life. Life lived in the flesh, however marvelous, is but the barest reflection of life in him.
For my young friend, true life is now a face to face experience, eyes wide open. For we who remain and trust Christ, this life is viewed through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). For we who remain, the fact of forever-life in Christ provides hope mingled with the pain of loss. We do not mourn as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14), but we do mourn, for life here will never be the same.