Death comes unexpectedly even when there are health issues. I didn't know of any current health crises, but my friend was near death before and has had lengthy stays in hospitals. Yet, his death surprised me. It was unexpected. However, when is death not unexpected? More often than not, death steals life like a thief.
Intriguingly, our culture doesn't mind watching violence and much bloodshed in the movies and on TV. In other words, we love to be entertained by death. Yet we avoid thinking about death with a passion; if we do think about it, we definitely don't talk about it. This avoidance of talking about death, along with our own sense of immortality (we are all going to live forever, right?), helps create the surprise of death. Why aren't we surprised by life? Why aren't we amazed that we are alive?
Many people tell me they are not afraid to die, yet they are scared of how they will die. I would guess that most people would like to die in their sleep without pain and without any lengthy illness. Some get to experience that, but many don't. My friend died alone. I wonder what he experienced. Did he know he was dying, or did it happen quickly? Was their pain? Had he tried to get any help? Of course, reflecting on his death makes me wonder how I will die. Grief over a death of a loved one often brings about thoughts of one's own death.
Funerals can help people grieve or they can hurt the grieving process. I believe that funerals are to help people say good-bye to the deceased. Most people attend a viewing or a funeral in the avoidance stage of grief; they are shocked. Funerals are to help people graciously confront that truth. However, some things we do at funerals help us avoid the truth of the death. Closed caskets help avoid the truth. Not talking about the deceased aids in avoiding the truth; it is amazing what people talk about in viewings or even at funerals - anything but the deceased. In some ways my friend's funeral avoided the truth of his death. The casket was closed. There was no viewing. People were allowed to share, but few shared any personal moments about him. Even the Scripture I read, which was meant to give hope in Jesus Christ, could be interpreted as avoidance. The pastor spoke well, but he had never met my friend, so he pointed us to Jesus. The brief graveside committal lasts for a moment. If one could see the casket lowered into the ground, that would be more helpful, but most times the family leaves before that happens. So, even though the funeral or memorial service is supposed to help with the bereaved facing the reality of the death, it often fails to do so.
Let's go back to the Scripture and the message. I don't think they could be viewed as avoidance but as offerings of hope and proclaiming the spiritual reality- in Christ we have new life. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25-26 NIV). What a promise and what hope! Jesus also said, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God...But about the resurrection of the dead - have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is no the God of the dead but of the living" (Matthew 22:29, 31-32 NIV). Death is just an entrance into eternal life with Jesus. Thus, my friend is alive right now, though his body died.
I will experience many feelings and emotions of sadness as I walk through the death of my friend. I will obviously miss him. Yet, I do have this hope. He tried to follow after Jesus. He had a spiritual conversion and turned to God several years ago. Yes, he had many questions for God about his struggles, just like Job had questions. Yet, he had God, and now has God, and his struggles and his questions are over. So, part of me wants to weep; I will miss him. Another part of me wants to express joy; he is not dead but alive. He is with Christ. My heart is torn.