The Death of Despair
Today I attended a funeral for a distant relative. I know his daughters better than I knew him, and unfortunately, though we are the same age and grew up in the same town, I don’t know them as well as I’d like, and we talked today about rectifying that over the holidays.
In a strange way, I enjoy going to funerals, and it is a bittersweet experience, because you learn so many really wonderful things about the person that you really wish you’d known when they were alive. I am blessed to come from a large extended family where multiple generations have kept in touch, and while there are a few rascals, most everyone is solid salt of the earth, even some of the rascals, which makes for some good stories. The tragedy is that my generation doesn’t really have the bonds with each other that the previous ones do. And we are beginning to lose large numbers of my grandparents’ generation (we’re a long-lived clan)—one more probably won’t make it through tonight, literally. Her funeral is already scheduled for next weekend.
This semester, we unexpectedly lost one of the powerhouse professors in our department, and yet already things are moving forward administratively to take care of his responsibilities. His memorial service will be next weekend also, and it will be full of stories and remembrances and praises, as you’d expect, and as he deserves. But life goes on.
I found myself during the service today asking the question, “What is the point of living life, much less a life well lived?” As the Preacher, Solomon, observed in Ecclesiastes 2:12-16:
Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?
I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.
The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.
Then I said to myself,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.”
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!
The first answer to my question that I gave myself was to look around at the packed chapel to see the lives this man impacted, and knowing there were many more that wanted to be there. The cynic in me replied that it just begs the question, putting it off and the real question was why any of us was here—the cycle of life and death is just mechanistic meaninglessness, for even the universe will one day end, so what?
But God commanded us to live and declared that our existence is not only good, but very good. If He is Good and Holy, then these two facts are of critical importance. The fact of our living, and the urge to live well of necessity flow from the character and person of God. Without that being true, the Preacher is right. Even Paul concedes that if it is only for this life that we live as Christians, then we are to be most pitied of all people. Without the reality of a good God, Life is a burden, and one that should be shucked. If the destiny of our lives is annihilation sooner or later, then it really doesn’t matter which, sooner, or later.
But, if God, then everything changes.
One of my favorite verses about mortality is Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” What care and comfort that the Almighty Creator sees the passing of our loved ones as precious! Anything that God deems precious can never be a waste.
Is your God big enough to redeem your mortality?