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
Two very cherished brothers within the MV family died recently and we mourn their loss. Gene Salancik and Steve Lockhart will be missed greatly. Their deaths, within a week of each other, bring to mind several Biblical truths that provide encouragement for those of us wrestling with their passing. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew something of death’s impact upon the soul and exhorted his readers to not overlook the affect a “house of mourning” has upon the hearts of those still living.
First, death exhorts us to consider the brevity of life. No matter when or how a person dies, death reminds us that life is brief. None of us is guaranteed that we will live a week, a month or year beyond today. The Bible explains that reality through verses like James 4:13,
Come now, you say today or tomorrow we shall go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Life is short and no one knows that better than those who have witnessed loved ones die in the prime of life. No one knows that better than senior adults who look back on their lives and ask, “Where did the time go?” And because our lives are like a vapor, it is important that we make every day count. David said it this way in Psalm 90:12,
So teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.
If you numbered your days as David teaches, how many days might you have left? If you lived another 10 years, that’s 3650 days. If you live another 20 years that is 7300 days. If you live another 40 years that’s 14,600 days. What will you do with the days that you have left on earth? How will you live your life and what will you live for? Will you live for yourself…. Will you live for money……Will you live for popularity…. Will you live for pleasure or will you live for something far greater? Will you live for something that lasts beyond this life and carries over into the next? The best way to make our few days on earth count is to give them to Jesus Christ. We make our lives count by asking Christ to forgive us our sin and take control of our life. No one knows how to make our lives count better than the One who created us and redeemed us.
Secondly, death exhorts us to turn to God for comfort. No matter when or how a person dies, the death of a loved one hurts. And with that hurt comes all kinds of emotions; emotions like anger, guilt, depression and confusion. These feelings are normal and we need the freedom to experience them.
Several years ago, I sat beside a young mother whose husband had died unexpectedly. As she wrestled with her grief, she began asking why. Her mother, a professing Christian, told her she should not question God. The implication was that asking why was disrespectful and a sign that she did not have faith in God. The mother could not have been more wrong! God is not intimidated by our anger; He is not offended by our confusion. God is not disappointed with our emotions. He created our emotions and is more than able to handle all of them. He wouldn’t be God if He could not!
One of the best things we can do when death comes suddenly is to grieve honestly. By grieving honestly I mean being real with God. Telling God how we feel and telling Him how much we hurt and telling Him how angry we are, if we are angry. Letting out what bothers us within is something God designed for our own good. Consider Matthew 5:4,
Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.
The word for mourn here means “to let out that which bothers us within.” In a real sense, mourning is different than sadness. Sadness would be the presence of heavy feelings that cling to our hearts and minds during a time of loss. Mourning is the process of letting out the sad heavy feelings that cling to our hearts during a time of loss. Ironically, some of the saddest people on earth are those who have never mourned. Comfort comes to those who have the freedom to let out those things that bring sadness within. When we turn to Jesus for comfort, we find more than solace; we find a Savior whose glory and splendor validate our trust establish our peace.
Thirdly, death exhorts us to remember that our life-and-death are always in God’s hands. No matter when or how a person dies, ultimately their death did not escape the sovereign power of a loving God. David said it this way in Psalm 139:16,
“Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”
The shock many of us feel when a father, husband and friend dies can become more complicated when considering how they died. There is a mystery surrounding some deaths we may never understand. We have many questions; questions that may not be answered until we see Jesus face-to-face. If we wait for those answers before we allow our hearts to have peace, we may never have peace. No matter how we die, our lives have always been held in the palm of God’s hands. My purpose is not to explain how the free will of man operates within the sovereignty of God but to simply say that, in the end, God is a good God who holds our lives in His hands. The Apostle Paul could not have said it any better when in Romans 8, he writes that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. He who rules the universe and speaks the worlds into existence by the breath of His mouth does not lack the power to save us from harm, injury and death. If He knows the number of hairs on our head and is able to clothe the lilies of the field then He knows when and how each of us will take our last breath.
In the end, Jesus had a greater right to Gene and Steve’s life than any of us. Jesus paid the ultimate price for these brothers, His own spotless eternal blood. Though we may have a claim on their lives as a wife, daughter, mom, dad, brother, coworker and friend, none of us have a claim as Jesus. Gene and Steve belonged to Jesus before they belonged to us. The privilege was ours to know them, live with them, love them, work with them and worship with them for a certain number of years. Those years have come to an end. We could wish and pray with all our hearts they were still here but Jesus, who loves them more than any of us and has made the ultimate sacrifice, claims them as His own….. and He knows best.
Let’s continue to pray for Gene and Steve’s families during their mourning. Let’s also ask Jesus for specific ways we can encourage them in the days ahead.