“It’s a part of life.”
We often say these things with regard to death and dying. The problem is, they’re not true. We weren’t made for death. God made us for so much more.
This past Saturday evening, my wife and I had the privilege of visiting with one of our closest friends. Late-stage liver cancer left him with little time on this earth, and we all knew that evening would be our last goodbye. As we drove away, tears streaming down our faces, I turned to the faith the three of us shared in common, and what follows is my effort to share the thoughts that came to my mind in that moment.
Some will find it ironic that the theme of dying would be the cause for a meditation on the Holy Trinity, but I think if you read on, you’ll see why it’s so fitting.
The Nature of God
God is a communion of three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s in His very nature to be in relationship. God made us in His image and likeness, so we’re made for communion and relationship too. In fact, our lives are only meaningful in relation to God and others. We experience the deepest fulfillment when we are in community. Isolated individuals are like branches torn from trees. They wither away and eventually die. Where there is communion, there’s life in abundance.
The Nature of Death
The trouble with dying is that it’s unnatural. It’s not a part of life. Sure, experience teaches us that it happens to everyone, but let’s not equate that with what’s natural. In the beginning… it was not so. Instead, consider that God created us out of love for the purpose of living and loving Him in return. Human beings were meant to live forever, and our own desire to do so confirms that ancient truth. Unfortunately, we do die, but not because it’s natural.
Death is a consequence of sin, and what is sin but a breaking of communion? If we derive our nature from God, and it’s His very nature to live in communion, then we can easily see why sin is unnatural and leads to consequences that are just as unnatural. Death, then, is what fallen humanity does, and the separation we experience when a loved one dies is our perception that communion has been broken. Our relationships seem to end. It hurts, even when we know there’s more to the story.
Hope for More
When we left my friend’s house, I wasn’t crying because I felt bad for him or because I was sad I wouldn’t see him again. I know better. If I am able to finish my time on earth in the fashion he did, then I have every reason to hope that I will indeed see him again. My tears, then, were about something else. They were an expression of frustration over a fallen condition. God uses our tears to baptize the brokenness we feel when we experience separation from our loved ones.
I know that God has overcome death, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God or the Communion of Saints, but the appearance of a broken communion, a severed relationship, or at least its interruption, is a remaining pain point caused by death. Let’s not water that down, or worse, cover it up, with nice sayings that aren’t really true. It’s ok to feel it. If you’ve experienced a separation from someone you love recently, whether due to death or other circumstances, dig deeply into the mystery and you might just find yourself marveling at the secret behind it all… our natural longing for a life of communion with those we love in the very life of the Most Holy Trinity.
This piece is dedicated to my friend, Kevin, who passed away just prior to writing this post a couple hours ago. RIP. Love you, bro.