The sky shone turquoise after the storm, aquamarine like the ocean, translucent clouds of sea foam drifting across the heavens. A hawk soared, high above the ground, and circled back to the woods beneath. Sunbeams danced like spotlights on the tops of trees. Below, a forest of tall maples ringed a field on three sides, silver leaves glinting in the bright sunlight, a thousand shining swords waving in triumph.
On the ground, boot prints in a sea of muck ran with trickles of water mingled with streams of blood. Bodies lay strewn about the field, army green and mud brown and blood red. One figure, on his knees in the mud, blood dripping from his forehead, stared blindly, mind rejecting what eyes were seeing.
Somewhere in the distance, a songbird chirped.
In a multitude of corners of the earth, death descends in a multitude of forms, and life or hope or both come to a screeching halt – and yet, the sun still shines. Hearts shatter and dreams fade, and yet people sail by, unaware and laughing. The moon still sets and the sun still rises. Brides still walk the aisles, and grooms still stand, smiling. Wedding bells still ring.
Death stalks, tragedy calls, faith withers away, and still, mercilessly, the planet spins, the seconds tick by, and the heartbeat of life never falters.
It all seems so cruel.
When we suffer, our lives are interrupted and altered, sometimes permanently. And while others might notice and whisper words of comfort and even shed tears of sympathy at our pain, eventually they return to their own lives. But it’s hard to understand; the world will never be the same. How can people behave as though it will?? That’s the pain of it.
Eventually, after we’re crushed and broken, wounded and scarred by the demons and daggers of disappointment and death, we come to understand that no one really can bear the pain of it for us. Words like “heartbreak” and “grief” become empty expressions, clichés that are tossed like chips in a casino to describe our pain. And yet, they don’t. Moreover, when those words are coupled with that cruelest of all words – “loneliness” – we experience the reason that tragedy disfigures our souls forever: we have to bear it alone.
And yet we don’t.
There is one who can bear it with us – has already born it for us – Jesus Christ. Now I realize that some – maybe many of my followers perhaps don’t subscribe to Christ – and I get that. Yet I can’t disguise the hope that we have who do believe: that Christ has taken away the sting of death – and yes, of life, too. People demand to know why bad things happen to good people. Why not? It’s a reasonable question. And yet the answer seems not to satisfy many. Yet I can’t change the answer nor can I give you a better one. The fact is, and the answer is, that we live in a fallen world. Sin has made a way for pain and heartache and death. So – how is that fair? If there’s a God, just what kind of person is he that he would allow any of this? Where is he in all of this?
On the cross. Or – he was. He died to take away the pain of life and the finality of death. What more could he do? But then he rose. And when he did, he replaced death with everlasting joy and peace and yes, that most elusive of all pursuits – happiness.
I remember once going to the funeral of a woman who had taken her own life. I didn’t know her well but I cried until my eyes were swollen shut; I couldn’t stop. I cried that she had had so much pain and so little hope that she had had no other answer than to end her life to stop the pain. When my father died, I barely cried at all. I cried briefly because I’ll miss him, but I’ll see him again; of that I have no doubt. In the meantime, he’s “in a better place” – another cliché that we throw around. No, actually, he’s in a place that is so far beyond “better” that no human being can even comprehend it. If we can imagine a world not wrecked by sin, it’s a start. No anger, no sadness, no fear, no envy, no malice, no bigotry, no pain, no desperation, no hopeless, no depression, no self-hatred, no despair, no war, no disease, no crime, no perversion, no unimaginable atrocity – no tears, no heartbreak, no death of any kind.
Erase all of that – and then imagine a place of beauty beyond anything we’ve ever seen. People who’ve visited heaven, who’ve died and been revived, describe heaven as a place having colors we’ve never seen, sound beyond our spectrum, music we can’t produce, and light that is brighter than any sun. But the best thing of all – from my viewpoint anyway – is that heaven is a place of new beginnings, a place where the mistakes we’ve made are erased and the wrongs we’ve done to others are healed, a place where we can start all over – and get it right!
Heaven is a place of do-overs.
In the midst of heart-wrenching pain, what does it hurt to believe – especially when there are those of us who can testify that we’ve never been disappointed by believing? What’s the risk? When you think about it, there isn’t any.
Just believe. It’s okay.