“Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” These words ripped through my heart as the pastor concluded his eulogy for my father and the pall bearers approached the coffin, lifting it up simultaneously and walking in step toward the hearse and placing it in the back. With those words, reality set in that I would never see my father again. I had been preparing for several months that my father could soon die from his ongoing illnesses. Yet it still didn’t prepare me for those sharp words: “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?”
As I sat in the pew listening to the pastor read those words of the apostle Paul, I wished at that moment to have a few words with Paul myself. I would sit him down, grab him by his shoulders and shake him, asking him how he could say those words. Death’s sting was in my heart. Death’s sting was that I wouldn’t come home to see my father playing card games on the computer or call him up to argue about how the Duke basketball team was going to win the national championship this year.
I recollected sermon after sermon where preachers stood in their lofty pulpits commanding me to not worry about death because my home was in heaven. I wondered how preachers could say such a thing when they had never experienced death, and for that matter, never experienced heaven.
Before my father’s passing, death was scarcely experienced in my life. I remember the hurt I felt for the thousands of people who lost their lives from the Tsunami in Asia a few years ago. I was saddened as a recent college graduate of the shooting deaths at Virginia Tech. When I was a child, a distant cousin of mine was killed in a car wreck. Other than those examples, I had never felt the weight of death. You can try to empathize with Tsunami victims, 9/11 victims and others, but you just never know how it feels until death hits close to home.
How are we to approach death? Many of us have had friends, if not family members, die. In the midst of death in our lives, where do we find comfort? How are we supposed to react to death?
As I’m writing this I’m thinking about Jesus’ death. I can’t imagine how it felt for Jesus to not only know that He was going to die, but to know that He was going to die one of the most slow, humiliating and excruciating deaths. I thought of Jesus’ disciples who dined with Him, journeyed with Him and laughed with Him, yet were no where to be found at the time of his death.
And then I thought about God. He must not have been able to look at His only son when the skin was ripped off His back and the nails driven through His palms. Yet Jesus’ death didn’t mark the end of the story. If anything, it marked the beginning of the story.
When my father died, it wasn’t the end of the story, even though it may have felt like the end. During the hours and days preceding my father’s death, I wanted to escape reality. I even yelled at God for not giving me a break. Despite my frustrations I felt God telling me that it wasn’t the end of the story, but only the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another. In the last couple months I’ve felt much grace and healing. God has reminded me that he never gives me more than I can handle.
Just as birth and the joys of life are a part of our story, so dying and the sorrows of death are a part of our story. So often we want life devoid of pain. Yet how will we reach the peaks of love, happiness and pleasure without going through the valleys of sorrow, unhappiness and pain.
Amidst the sting of death, I’ve managed to spend time with the One who endured the death of deaths. There have been days when I’ve wanted to yell at God and shake my fist at Him. Yet there have been days when it’s like God has thrown me over His shoulders and is walking through life for me. I wish there was more of the latter than the former, but this is no heaven on earth.
We all have a story to write. It may not be the same as Job’s, who lost his home, family, and livelihood in an instant but yet we still have a story to write. What story will you write?