In reflecting on the deadly tornadoes this week, one spiritual question arises about which I am hesitant to write. The question has an answer that has caused harm to grieving people. “Is death always a tragedy?”
In C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, the last book of his Chronicles of Narnia, all the children* who once visited Narnia are reunited in a new, wonderful land that resembles Narnia. They wonder how this is possible since the great lion Aslan had told them that they would not return to Narnia. Yet this new land is more spectacular and more real than the old Narnia they had known. Slowly the children come to realize that their last memory of our world had been a terrible train wreck. Unlike previous stories, Aslan had not transported them from our world to the world of Narnia. Instead they have walked through the door of death and entered the outskirts of heaven itself.
Lewis does something incredible in this story. Certainly he could have written about their deaths from the tragic perspective of the survivors still on earth: friends and relative who grieved the children’s sudden absence from life on earth. But instead Lewis gives an imaginative description of their homecoming in heaven, where the joy and delight of heaven grows deeper and more profound each moment.
As Christians we believe in the promise of God that whether we live or die we belong to Christ. In Philippians 1:21, Paul writes, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” The gain in dying is to gain more of Christ and his joy. Death is not something to be feared, but rather embrace as the door to God’s good presence.
So what is the harm in telling a grieving person, “Your loved one is in a better place?” The harm comes from the fact that a grieving person does not want the person “in a better place” like heaven. The grieving person wants the loved one in this life, sharing in the joys and sorrows of their mutual love. In time the grieving person may embrace the truth of “a better place,” yet in the aftermath of death, such words can be biting and harmful. Compassionate silence is better than quick answers.
What perspective do you have on death?
Lord Jesus, help me to see death as the door way into the resurrected life and to be gracious towards those who grieve.
*Susan is not included, but that is a different posting.