Last week Noland and I traveled to Little Rock to be with is family and go to his grandfather’s funeral. It was a strange interruption to the blissful feeling of the beginning of spring — an interruption of all things being made new to feel the sting and reality of death. At the same time, it was oddly timely for it to happen during the week of Easter. It got me reminiscing and re-living a lot of things, because this wasn’t the first time I was experiencing a convergence of death and resurrection in my life.
In fact, exactly six years ago today I experienced a tragedy I’ll never forget. It was the loss of a close family friend, he was my best friend’s dad and my dad’s best friend. I’ll never forget my mom telling me what had happened that Monday afternoon after school. I’ll never forget the somber drive from Nashville to San Antonio two days later, and I’ll never forget sitting through his funeral on Good Friday that year, trying to hold on to the truth that He’s good no matter what, all the while asking that same one-word question over and over in my head.
I was seventeen years old and for the first time I was feeling the unparalleled pain of the death of a loved one — a pain that, in the beginning, it was never intended by God for us to feel.
And somehow the kindness of God showed up in the timing of it all. Because on Easter Sunday two days later, we celebrated the resurrected one who died so that we could live forever. It didn’t take away any of the pain. If I’m honest, I still ask that same one word question sometimes when I think about it to this day. But it reminded me that Jesus already defeated death so that we don’t have to be defeated by it. We can’t escape it, but it isn’t our end either.
But I still don’t get it. And I never will.
Two months ago, a guy I went to high school with committed suicide. That’s the kind of death that will make you question all sorts of things about eternity you never questioned before. I had so many friends that were hurting so badly, and my heart broke for them. It still breaks for them. And that same night, as all of this was weighing so heavily on me, Noland and I went to the college worship service at our church. It happened to be a night of worship and baptism.
As the service went on, people who hadn’t been saved started giving their lives to Jesus left and right, and spontaneous baptism broke out and all of a sudden there were 25 people standing on stage who had just been baptized. Buried with Him in death. Raised to walk in newness of life.
And I stood there on the second row, not knowing a single person on that stage yet weeping at the beauty of what was happening. In that moment God spoke, “You came here mourning the loss of one. You’re leaving celebrating the resurrection of twenty-five.”
And just like on Easter Sunday in 2007, the pain didn’t go away. But I felt the presence of God draw so near, and the only thing I can resolve from this mystery is this: I can not escape the sting of death on this side of Heaven. But the goodness of God will always outweigh it — and not just a little bit, but 25 and 50 and 100 fold.
Sometimes God’s mysteries are fun, like a treasure hunt. And sometimes they hurt. But no matter which side of the spectrum, they are always humbling. The mysteries of God always remind me of how small I am. They always remind me of how much I need him. I was reminded of that this weekend as I felt so small standing with Noland over his grandfather’s coffin.
“I just don’t get it. I don’t get death,” he said.
“That’s because you were never meant to,” I told him.
And we stood there silently in the mystery. There are so many things we don’t get. I don’t get why I still watch a family I love grieve a lost father, six years after he’s been gone. I don’t get why people take their own lives, and I wonder how God handles it.
I don’t get how God will make all things work together for my good, but it says in his word that he will. I don’t get how every promise he’s spoken will be fulfilled, but I know he’s not a liar. I don’t get how Noland’s dreams and mine will be woven together into something more beautiful than we could have imagined, but I know God said he would show us things we wouldn’t believe, even if we were told.
And the trade off is that even though I don’t understand the hurt, I also don’t understand the love. It’s endless. We’ll never reach the end of it. There’s always more. It’s unfathomable, and it reminds me that living in the unfathomable is worth it.
When I don’t know anything else, I always know He’s good.