I have written and re-written this post so many ways. I don’t know why it’s so difficult to talk about God and Death – perhaps it’s because so few people do. They are HUGE subjects for a small 600-word blog to tackle, but I think the real challenge I have in writing about them is that God and death don’t lend themselves to tame, easy answers I can layout in bullet points. They are uncontrolled. So, what am I writing about?
Well, for the first time in my life I heard a lecture that discussed God and death and, though I knew better, there was a deep part of me that hoped I would hear something along the lines of God having a purpose when people die. Death would be so much easier to take in if we knew, with certainty, that something worth a loved one’s death would result. But what would be worth that? Why would a loving God presumably work that way? Well, He doesn’t. And the speaker did not give in to the temptation to comfort us. We were all left uncomfortable.
Dr. Harold Ivan Smith took care to tell the truth. His lecture aimed to give guidance to pastors on what to expect or do when tragedy strikes members of their congregation. We heard story after story of tragedy on tragedy and no evidence that this was for the greater good of any person’s life. Children losing parents, parents watching their children die, people being shot or dying in drunken car wrecks.
It all begins to sound hopeless, pointless, meaningless. It reminded me of my first few years of working at the mortuary where my faith couldn’t handle the amount of death and sorrow I was seeing pour through the doors each day.
It took years of thinking, questioning and wondering to work it out but I think I’ve found something obvious yet significant and often missed.
Death doesn’t arrive at our doorsteps filled with meaning. God is not a sadistic teacher seeking to bring people into codependent relationships with Him by killing the people we love most. I don’t know the answer to this, but I have a sneaking feeling that God doesn’t call a lot of the death shots. I’d elaborate on that, but I don’t know enough about theology and I’ll undoubtedly get my tongue tied somewhere.
What modern grief theory has shown us is that humans are quite capable of creating great meaning out of total tragedy. It takes time, no death is instantly rich in meaning and thus justified and brought to peace. But humans find a way to healing by finding a way to meaning.
Take the families of Sandy Hook. Each person murdered there, regardless of age, is memorialized in a non-profit, charity, or scholarship fund. Families created these organizations hoping that others might benefit and live better lives despite and because of these tragedies.
We can simultaneously not know why a death has happened and still create meaning in the midst of it.
So, how do we find meaning in death?
(Here come the bullet points)
- Relinquish the need for answers that most likely do not exist
- Examine the legacy of your loved one and consider ways their life might continue to help others
- Be intentional about modeling attributes you admired about your loved one as a way of honoring them
- Give back to others in a way that commemorates your loved one’s life
Finally, I will end all of this in a favorite quote from Frederick Buechner,
“God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.”
I hope all of us can find some hope, encouragement, and meaning in that gift.
Thanks for reading & Happy Easter.