God Can Be Trusted With Death

crossIt’s hard to describe how I felt when I finally got news that my dad had died. At the moment my emotions all felt so tangible, flooding over me with singular awareness. Now, description seems to elude me. I was in a seminary class when I first got the call. I was sure that he would pull through, that later on that year at Christmas we would all laugh about how dad had given us a scare. In the aftermath of his death there were many emotions, many challenges, many frustrations, but the one thing I never experienced was doubting the goodness of God. I know plenty of people for whom that was a very intense struggle after loss, but it just wasn’t my experience. It’s not because I have some amazingly stellar faith, like I am some sort of super Christian. I am not, and I surely wasn’t back then. Rather, God had prepared me well to trust Him before the moment of my father’s death ever arrived. My daughter’s spinal surgery in particular was training ground for that moment. What I believed in small form back then, I can affirm even more boldly now: God can be trusted with death.

People tend to rush to Romans 8:28 when the reality of death hits us. We tell ourselves, we tell others, “All things work together for good.” The verse, of course, speaks truth and it has its place. Yet, the sovereignty of God isn’t always the first stop on the road to dealing with loss. The realization that God is in control of all things is a comfort, that he plans good even in awful events can be of some comfort and solace. When I first heard that my dad was in a coma my mind went to Psalm 84:11, which says:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

God is life-giving and God is protection, and if there is something good for His children He sees to it that they have it. What He withholds, then, must not be good for us. I was reminded of George Mueller, who comforted himself with this passage as he watched his ailing wife die, he said:

The last portion of scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: “The Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory, no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Now, if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have received grace, we are partakers of grace, and to all such he will give glory also. I said to myself, with regard to the latter part, “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly”—I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all this springs, as I have often said before, from taking God at his word, believing what he says. (A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Mueller)

I took comfort, like Mueller, in the knowledge that God was in control and that all that he did was good. But in the immediate aftermath of my father’s passing there was another thought that comforted me, one that went even deeper into my soul: God knew what it felt like.

God can be trusted with death because He has experienced death. In the first place, God the Father has given up His son, seen Him put to death, and been separated from Him whom He loved dearly. God can be trusted with death because He knows what you and I feel when we lose those whom we love. Death is not a foreign concept to our God, He watched His Son die and experienced the pain of separation. God knows how to comfort us precisely because He has experienced what we are experiencing. Jesus too know this experience as he wept at the loss of His dear friend Lazarus. Jesus knows grief and sorrow; he knows the sting of death. He knows it even better than we do, for Jesus tasted death itself for us. Our God knows what we experience both as those dying and those watching our loved ones die. God knows it and He can comfort us in it.

I remember that first night after his death like it was yesterday. I had to drive to Tennessee, where he was staying at the time. I got to the hospital just in time to feel the warmth leaving his physical body. We had to stay the night with some people I didn’t know in order to take care of my dad’s remaining affairs the following day. I recall lying awake in this strange bed, in this unfamiliar house, staring at the ceiling, sporadically weeping uncontrollably. But I recall thinking, “God knows what I am going through.” He cares for me and can care for me because not only is He in control, but He can sympathize with my pain. It is an immense comfort to encounter people who know our emotional instability, who understand our sorrow, who can weep with us while they put their arms around us. How amazing is the thought that my God can do this. God can be trusted with death. It’s a thought that even now can bring me to tears and to a place of peace.

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