It has come to our community, in a way for the first time. We have experienced the blessing of full lives drawing to a close, surrounded by friends and family. We have known goodbyes and have been able to tearfully trust in the reunion to come. Recently, death came in a manner less just, shocking our community into tearful, wordless grief. As we have mourned together through cancer and as we continue to wonder how we rebuild and remember the gift that beloved father, husband, and friend’s life was, we are also left to ask the big questions: Why? How could a loving God let this happen? He was a good man, loved God, and lived a good life, shouldn’t that have counted for something?
In this season of Lent, these 40 days that have become reminiscent of wandering in the wilderness, where do we look to find the strength of hope? Trite, easy answers dissolve like ashes on our lips, and we need something real to help us make it through the desert. Dr. John Weborg speaks of Easter to those dealing with death as our great reminder of hope and reality. Easter not as the holiday cloaked in bunnies and bright dresses, but Easter begun with the brutality of death and carried to completion through the resurrection–the final defeat of death.
Alfred North Whitehead’s suggestion that coming to know God might take one through three phases: God the void, God the enemy, God the friend. Such faith can be more exacting at times than exhilarating, more taxing than triumphant. Sometimes God is more endured than enjoyed.
Jürgen Moltmann of Tübingen has argued that only the grieving ones know what death does and is. Death is loss. What does death do? It deprives people of those whom they deeply love. Even the dying do not know death because they do not have to deal with the results of their death. The living are left alone. Moltmann, using for example the latter part of Romans 8, thinks this can be applied to God. While we can only use human language at this point, our language does point to a profound reality in God. God knows what death is because God lost a son, which puts God in some fashion in the community of sufferers. Loss does not have to be explained to God. The stone silence of grief, the “winter of the heart” to use Martin Marty’s phrase, is intelligible to God. This is the God who freely gave up his son for us all, the one to whom Jesus lifted up loud cries. (Hebrews 5:7-8).
If, in some sense, God is “one with us,” then suffering is not a sign of divine rejection as some of Job’s friends tried to show. If suffering were the sign of divine rejection, then God would have to reject God’s self. This is not weakness on God’s part, but the strength to love, to use one of Martin Luther King’s expressions. Speaking this way, it is not trite to say, “God knows,” and it is not a cliché to say, “God understands.”
In and with the life of Jesus, God knows the complete cycle of life from birth to death. God’s communion with Jesus was a communion in suffering as well as in joy. If in the incarnation of God in Christ, God tasted everything human, then in the resurrection, we can taste that which endured and then overcome sin and death. On the cross sin found its end in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:26), then at Easter death found its end.
I find comfort not in the platitudes, but in the knowledge that death, in all its reality and loss, has found its end. That is what we celebrate with our Hosannas and trumpet-shouts on Easter morning–that life, love, is having the final word.
“…weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5