Saturday, October 25, 2014

The House of Mourning

"A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says, "She is gone." Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all; she is just as large as when I saw her. The diminished size, and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, "She is gone," there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout, "There she comes!" and that is dying."

- Bishop Brent



"It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart." - Ecclesiastes 7:2 

I am wont to tease and gripe in a coffee creamer sort of way about the fact that nobody dies in the movies anymore- coffee creamer, because I'm half-and-half; part of me is just having fun teasing friends who like the happy endings, but part of me truly does believe that we as a culture are missing something.  I think what we're missing is the opportunity to visit the house of mourning.

In today's culture, we are invited to hop on a bubble-wrapped train that promises to protect us from the thorns of reality.  Yet I fear that when we are insulated from the thorns we are also blinded to the roses.

Obey God, Work Hard, Have Fun

Over the past few days I've been reading the book of Ecclesiastes.  I think it's my favorite book of The Bible (if one can have such a thing).  It seems that the message of the Preacher is something like this:

Life is short.
God is good.
Obey God.
Work hard.
Go have fun.

Don't spend too much time philosophizing; don't confine yourself within the walls of a library and re-live others' lives when you could be out there getting sweaty and bloody and dirty and building and being built and teaching and being taught and touching and being touched and loving and being loved; go do real things and enjoy the doing, and do it all from the sweet security of faith in a Perfect Providence and obedience to His perfect Law.

Yet this whole discussion is predicated on the recurring exclamation- vanity of vanities!  The rising and setting of the sun of our lives adds no weight to the rising and setting of the sun that lit them; no extra tear falls from the writhing clouds to join the rivulets cried by those left behind.  Life marches on; the universe keeps spinning; babies are born and old men die and the auroras still paint the sky; snow falls and melts into the flowers of spring which fade into the colors of autumn and then the snow falls again; falling stars keep falling yet the void never feels their loss; the ants never cease to march, the waterfalls continue their endless cascade, and we feed the worms with our flesh and return to the dust from which we were sculpted.

Death and Taxes

A worldview that is cut off from Christ is a worldview that is cut off from hope.  (1 Cor. 15:32)

For the unbeliever, death only has sting.  The godless may still present and desire the beauty of a noble death, because the Character of God that is woven into the universe- and their hearts- tells them that it's a beautiful thing, and in their hearts, they know and feel that a selfless death is the highest form of love. (Rom. 1, John 15:13)

But that is small consolation for someone who also sees death as the last page in their story.  An epitaph celebrating their goodness matters little if they are no longer alive to read it.

For the Christian, it is another matter entirely.  Death is the key that removes the chains of flesh and sin and frees us to run into the presence of our Savior. (Philippians 1:23)

For the Christian, a good death is not just a tragically noble, vapid conclusion to a meaningless saga.

Without Christ, bittersweet goodbyes end on the bitter. In Christ, they end on the sweet.

So when a Christian deals with death in his art, it should not be in a fatalistic, existentialistic, hopeless, empty way; we can't act like death is a dreaded inevitability, like taxes; we can't treat death as something to be avoided at all costs, like doing the dishes.

On the other hand, we may not handle death flippantly; life is precious, and therefore death is also precious. (Psalm 116:15)

But why not just ignore death altogether?  Why not live as if there is no last page, no double-bar line, no end credits?

Because the thorn is part of the rose.  The period is part of the sentence.  And if we spend our sentence denying the period, we miss the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the period- and to make the most of our sentence.

We can watch the grand finale in awe and giggle and chorus "ooh!" and "aah!" and point and whisper and let the falling embers reflect brightly in our eyes and the eyes of the children on our lap, who are only just learning not to be afraid of the distant rumble- or we can see in the grand finale only the finale, and spend those last thrilling moments wishing it weren't over; wishing that we could have the grand without the finale, when God has build a world in which they dance inseparably.

I think weddings and funerals are two of the most beautiful, inspiring events ever.  They paint exclamation points- one white and one black, but both clear and beautiful in their own way- on the brevity of life.  It all goes so fast.

The living takes it to heart.

"Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last." 
- C.T. Studd

And when we live with this perspective, so many things that would cloud our vision begin to melt away, and suddenly sunsets are brighter and little babies are more adorable and hummingbirds are more amazing and history is more exciting and current events make us want to cheer instead of tremble.  God is telling His story, and it's a beautiful one, and if we could just get lost in it for a while we would come back changed.

Of course, I'd prefer to stay lost in it.  To sit up the whole night of my life, unable to put the book down. 

When we're in God's story, things get so much simpler. 

Obey God.
Work hard.
Have fun.

There's joy there.  There's meaning there.  When we are walking in God's world, when we are a note on His score, then there is a reason for life- and for death; then we need not fear, but only obey; our duty becomes deliciously simple: do what God wants us to do, and then watch what happens.  So our life becomes the most productive it could be, for it is poured out onto the track that God sets before us and says "run," and it also becomes the most beautiful and joyous and peaceful, because now we have a reason to rejoice in the sweat and the sunshine and the tired legs and the cool breeze and the pain and the joy that follows when we do so.  And when we see the finish line ahead, we might just run a little harder.

“Cowards live for the sake of living, but for heroes, life is a weapon."
- N.D. Wilson

Nobody Dies These Days

Have you noticed that, as a general rule in American movies, nobody ever dies?  We'll bring computer-generated skyscrapers tumbling down on a city full of people, our hero will produce widespread mayhem as he leads the police on a merry chase through the city streets, and so on, but nobody important ever actually dies- or, if it's a Marvel movie, they die and come back to life.

So... what's wrong with that?

God as the Master Storyteller wrote a story that has sweet fragrance and tender velvet petals- and thorns.  Lots of thorns.

One day, God will wipe every tear from our eyes.  One day, the story will be brought to glorious fulfillment, the good guys will win, death will die, and there will be forever a sunrise.

But here, now, God has given us sunsets.

And the man who learns to see the beauty in the sunset, because he loves the One who painted it- who learns to admire the ruggedness and the sharpness of the thorns, because he trusts the One who sharpened them- who embraces all of the life he's been given, and thanks the Giver, and drinks it to its dregs- who runs until he can run no more, and cries until he has no tears left, and then laughs, until he collects more tears so he can cry again, and then cries them out so he can laugh again- how would that man live?  How would he die?  What would be the look on his face in the moments before he crosses the finish line?

It is said that every runner has two great fears- that he will not finish the race, and that he will finish the race knowing that he could have done more.

I pray that God will give me the strength, the vision, the drive to run this race of life so exuberantly, so passionately for His Kingdom, drunk on His goodness, lost in the thrill of His novel, the story of His symphony, that I will come to the end of it all and be breathless on my deathbed, not from weakness, but from excitement, not for want of air, but for fulness of days, and that my eyes will still shine like those of a little boy going on an adventure, and my children will see in me a man who, even as he says "goodbye," says also "turn the page!"

2 comments:

Maellen said...

Gabriel! That is gorgeous! A beautiful truth written on death, which is life to the believer.

Brytni Jade said...

Thank you Gabriel for sharing! I look forward to death, even though i'm "only in my 20's", with great anticipation! What death means to a believer is beautiful! The vessels of wrath have their "heaven" now on earth, but we have a greater hope in the life the elect have waiting for them! I love the words of Christ... "I go to prepare a place for YOU!" Let us live in light of eternity each day to bring great glory to the name of our heavenly Father and prepare to meet Him after death or at His glorious appearing! Come quickly Lord Jesus!