Monday, August 04, 2008

Death and Rejection

I wasn't sure whether (or how) to blog about this, but if the point of a blog is to allow others to keep in touch with what I'm going through, then I need to mention these things.

On Wednesday, July 9th, my grandfather died. On Thursday, July 10th, Mansfield First Friends Church called me to tell me I didn't get the job.

I know a lot of people have been praying for me through the job process, and I've made an effort to let people know that they can stop praying. But if any of you are reading this and you didn't know, thanks for praying for me. There's not really much else to say about this--rejection always sucks, but I would never want to work somewhere where I wasn't a good fit. We all prayed for God to be in control of the situation, and he was.

With that out of the way, I'd rather talk about my grandfather's passing, as it had a lot more significance for me. He had had some sort of weird lung cancer, like in the lining of his lungs or something where it was inoperable. It wasn't too long ago that he was diagnosed. I'm really bad with the passage of time, but it must have been less than nine months before his death. Furthermore, I was preaching my second/final sermon at Mansfield the weekend when he got worse. The weird thing is that they still thought he had "six months or less," so my Mom didn't tell me about it until after I preached. Gina and I were going to come up the next weekend, but he lived only two days after I got that message.

After the absolutely exhausting pastoral candidacy at Mansfield, the last thing I wanted to do was to speak in front of people, but my grandmother asked me to say something at the funeral. I thought she was going to ask others to say something as well, but she just asked me. Like being a pallbearer, it's not something you turn down. But I didn't think I had it in me.

In hindsight, I'm glad she asked me; I think that was God's hand in it all. Having to prepare my thoughts enabled me to try to express myself, which is something I struggle with. I really could never say enough to speak for a man like my grandfather, but I made a try of it. Of course, it was a totally inadequate speech that fails to express the loss I feel. My grandfather was perhaps the single best human being I've ever known, and living life without him is like losing direction.

This is the part where I'm supposed to "sanctify" my discussion of sad things and say something positive and hopeful about the future and God's plans, etc. But, honestly, I never cared for that. I think one of the things that gives us power as Christians is keeping our eyes open to the grittiness of life. What Christians always say at a funeral is, "We'll see him again someday," or "He's with the Lord, so he's happy." But while that's true, it's one half of the coin. It's like telling the ending of a movie without fully appreciating the plot leading up to it. I mean, I'll be happy later when I do see Jesus and all those who died in the Lord (like my grandfather). But, right now, I just want to be upset. People like my grandfather should live forever. The rest of us here in this world need them for direction. At the very least, they shouldn't die of frickin' cancer.

I think we're supposed to be angry about this, and we're supposed to mourn the loss of our loved ones (John 16:16-22). We're supposed to be humans who react like humans without feeling the need to pretend everything's always happy. No one has been spared the effects of death (or rejection)--including Jesus himself. When Lazarus died, Jesus didn't say, "I'll see him again someday." No, he cried--even though he knew God's plan was to raise him.

Because death sucks. That's why Jesus conquered it at the cross. In John's Gospel, the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead is what spurred Jesus' passion. Jesus' mission on earth was to defeat death. When he symbolized this by raising Lazarus, the forces of evil freaked out, knowing that their power was in jeopardy. (How can you have power over people if they don't fear death?) Further, when Jesus weeps, he knows emotionally the urgency of his mission: death must be destroyed. Jesus had read the scriptures; he knew what the Messiah was called to do. But it isn't until he weeps at death's stranglehold on humankind that he truly knows why death must be destroyed.

Similarly, I think the best way to truly grasp the joy of death's defeat is to first allow ourselves to experience the agony death brings. Only after we weep at death's power can we understand the joy that Jesus' death on the cross provides. Then it's not meaningless words when we say, "We'll see him again someday."


Scott Biddle said...

Well, I can tell you that I will not stop praying for you, I think it is just beginning(sorry).

Second, death does suck. The joy does come in knowing they are somewhere better, without pain and suffering, but it sucks for us. We need to be able to take time to weep, and be upset. God is big enough to handle all our questions and grief.

Ben said...

Thanks, Scott. Yeah, I agree. I always find I do better when I'm honest with God about my feelings instead of trying to hide them. I hope I can one day reach a point of contentment like Dave Cash was saying.