Jamie just OD’d. He’s probably dead.
Those were the words in the text message from my uncle. My cousin had just died from a heroine overdose. He was 24 years old.
That message came last Friday evening as I sat with my wife and parents and about 100 others at a dinner fundraiser in support of a pro-life ministry that helps young mothers. Life. This was the message of the evening. Yet in the middle of the keynote address, a message vibrated through the cell phone and into our hearts: Death.
It was the end of a long week during a uniquely busy time of year. In the middle of changes at work, having a home built, my brother just recently moving in with us, and all of the other stresses of a busy lifestyle, our lives were interrupted by this tragic news of Jamie’s death.
I can think back to a handful of similar sad moments in my life when I received phone calls notifying me that someone I knew had died. At every one of those instances, my reaction was the same: All other thoughts and anxieties about my life’s activities faded into the distant obscurity of my mind. In other words, the death of another caused my life to pause.
I want to briefly list five reasons why I believe it is important to “press pause” on our busy lives when someone we have known dies:
1.) Pause to grieve the death of a loved one.
This may seem like a point so obvious it’s not worth listing. However I believe it is important for us to remember to take an appropriate amount of time to mourn. Grief is both a natural human reaction to a saddening event and a biblical reaction. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 says,
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
We read in John 11 that Jesus himself took time to show his grief in front of his disciples and those present at his dear friend’s Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus wept whilst knowing that he would soon raise Lazarus from death back to life. As with everything, we should grieve to the glory of God, with full dependence on Him for our comfort. May we follow the example of our Lord by taking time to cry when our friends and relatives leave this world for the next.
2.) Pause to experience the joy of God’s comfort.
Truly, the death of a brother or sister in Christ is a bittersweet time for the surviving family and friends. On the one hand we mourn the loss of someone close to us; on the other hand, we must be reminded that if our loved one knew the Lord Jesus in a saving way, he or she no longer knows sadness or pain, but only the indescribable joy of being in the presence of Christ. I remember when my great-grandmother died, my dad said that we had not “lost Nana,” because when you lose something it implies that you don’t know where it is. Instead, we knew that because Nana believed in Christ alone for her salvation, she was safe and secure in the arms of her Savior.
When we consider verses like Psalm 116:15—“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”—we begin to develop a different picture of the death of a believer in Christ. Ironically enough, for many Christians the death of a fellow believer is often accompanied by joy and celebration, as sad as it may be initially. While we grieve as is appropriate at times like these, the Apostle Paul reminds Christians that we do not grieve as others do who have no hope. Our hope is in Christ—our Way, our Truth, our eternal Life.
Not only should we pause at the death of a saint to be comforted, but also to comfort others. When my cousin Jamie died, the outpouring of love expressed by the kind words, encouraging notes, generous acts, and continual prayers from the family of God was probably the most visible example of God’s comfort that the Giarrizzo family could have experienced. I am so grateful for the body of Christ. I hope that I will remember to pause and show my love to others when they too experience the death of a loved one.
3.) Pause to consider the unnatural concept of death.
If you’ve ever seen an epic war movie based on real life, then you’ve observed the following scene: One soldier is shot, killed instantly. The surviving soldier next to the fallen one hesitates with terror. He pauses with the shock of seeing his friend’s life extinguished so suddenly. The next time you watch a scene like this, pay attention to the expression on the faces of those around the person who is killed. You will see the look of surprise, confusion, sadness, and fear blended together.
Death is shocking to us partly because it can be unexpected, but mostly because it is unnatural. When God created man in Genesis, the concept of death was known only through God’s command, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” For Adam and Eve death was hinged on the conditional and not based on God’s natural order of creation. It was only after Adam and Eve had sinned by disobeying God that death entered the world as an effect of their sin (Genesis 3:19). Therefore, for us, the children of Adam who are conceived in sin, we too are under sin’s curse of death.
I believe this is part of why humans have a hard time grasping the idea of death: because it is not natural to man from the beginning. The death of a loved one can be surprising, confusing, saddening, fearful, or all of these. Thankfully, though, because God’s grace was made known to sinful man through His Son, death is not a punishment for the child of God, but a passage to glory. (More on this under point #5.)
4.) Pause to contemplate our own impending deaths.
Life is short and death gets closer with every passing breath. Moses understood the brevity of human life as well as anyone. Thankfully he paused to write his contemplations for us to read in Psalm 90.
You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”
You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning-
though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.
The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(Psalm 90:3, 5, 6, 10, 12)
It was the end of my senior year of high school that I attended the funeral of a dear friend. Dan was 30 years old when the Lord took him home quickly in a car crash. The days and weeks following Dan’s death, I remember taking time to think about my own life. “Will I make it to 30, or will God take me home at a young age?,” I wondered to myself. To this day I think often about the shortness of life and the imminence of death. (Ask my family and they’ll say I’m just morbid.) God used Dan’s death to remind me to take life seriously, to number my days aright. What better an opportunity than the death of a friend to consider mortality, eternity, and the importance of salvation through faith in Christ? Likewise, what better opportunity to preach the Gospel to other sinful mortals?
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
5.) Pause to remember that Christ conquered death.
Finally, and most importantly, the thought of death and dying should cause us to think of Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. The sacrificial Lamb of God Who bled and died on our behalf is resurrected and ruling right now over heaven and earth. Only because of the death of Christ can the Christian sing, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” By His death and resurrection, Christ has removed the power of death. In fact, even the fear of death should be lessened or abolished for he who dies in the Lord. We believe the promise of Romans 8:38, that not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. May we always remember the words of Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” As Bunyan’s Hopeful in Pilgrim’s Progress spoke to Christian who struggled through the River of Death, “Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole,” may we also be of good cheer knowing that we have a great Savior Who has himself endured death in order to grant us everlasting life.
“Where, O death, is your sting?
To Christ, my hope, I do cling!
The water is deep and the darkness is dense,
But great is His light in the night of my death!”
…Surely there are other reasons why it is important for us to pause at the deaths of loved ones. I would love to hear from you if you have your own thoughts on why death should give us cause to pause.