How do people who do not know the Lord deal with death of a loved one? As I deal with people in the midst of the crisis of a family death I see many different reactions, but often I get asked if I know where their loved one is or will be after they die. The short answer is that I am not the judge, so I do not know. BUT I do know that Jesus promised for those who believe, eternal life awaits. So the real question is: did the one who died believe? In the case of people I know, like Irving Thorpe or Millie Wilkes -- people who I have seen live their faith, love unconditionally, give with extravagant generosity, and forgive with grace -- they are indeed heir to Jesus' promise. And I know that even as modest as Millie was and Irving is, I heard both of them say that they lived with the assurance of where they were and are going.
But what if you do not have that assurance? Well for them, there is hope that our merciful God will intercede and bring them eternal life, or there is nothing and this life is all there is. I have not encountered anyone who is satisfied with the nothing option. So where does the hope come from and how can that hope bloom into assurance? Well, that is pretty easy -- open your heart to the life Jesus is calling you to and believe in him. And I know that is easy to say but the proof is in the doing and that is much harder.
I will never forget the day my grandfather died and my Aunt Sallie was deleriously joyful and praising God. That was the day I thought I knew why they called her crazy Aunt Sallie. But I was oh so wrong. She knew where my grandfather was and even though she hurt for his loss, she rejoiced in the assurance that Jesus had prepared a place for him. I did not understand that then because I had no relationship with God at the time. Oh, I had gone to church and I know all the stories and knew about God but I did not know God. And I hung out with folks who were just like me, so they really could not explain what was going on with my Aunt Sallie either.
One of the great values of church is to have people that have a relationship with God around to support you and encourage you in the good times and in times of crisis -- people like my not-so-crazy Aunt Sallie. Somehow people who know God can find the right thing to say in our times of crisis. They say things that give us hope or keep us from ending with this life being all there is. But without that kind of support, there are too many questions and not enough comforting answers. So the kind of folks we hang out with make a difference too.
So I pray that each of you who may read this will seek a relationship with that will help you through life's difficult times.
Blessings for the journey!