This time of year, it’s not unusual for the death rate to rise. And this time around, a lot of people I know have graduated from this life to the next. It started with a former student and advisee of mine, a recent graduate of BJU, a valued team member of an evangelist, another former student, in a car accident. His sudden departure was a shock to all who knew him, and a sobering reminder that we have only a brief time to know and serve God here.
Then came a wave of older friends, showing the wear of their years of faithful service, moving on at a more “normal” age. Dr. Stewart Custer, the teacher I had for more classes than any other, the gentle intellect whose clear faith and love for his God was impossible for any who knew him not to notice. Then Geneva Anderson, a stubbornly godly woman who battled cancer, it seemed, forever, and who in the end did not succumb so much as overcome. “The Lord be praised!” And then Bud Rimel, who taught my EMT certification class and with whom I had the joy of playing criminal during security training simulations. If it weren’t for Bud I never would have had the opportunity to “steal” that police car. (Wish I’d known how to turn off the light bar at the time.) And then Kay Washer, veteran missionary in Africa, whose example is being followed by her own descendants as well as many others.
Then Don Horton, the California boy who spent his entire ministry life pastoring just one church in Statesville, North Carolina, who 43 years ago spent a year directing my undergraduate ministry internship, from whom I learned lessons that I have never forgotten. Then Gertrude Chennault, unassuming relative of the great Gen. Claire Chennault, whose life as an administrative assistant at BJU facilitated the accomplishment of great things but kept her out of the spotlight, which was just exactly where she wanted to be.
And Saturday I attended the funeral of Dolores Wood, wife of Bill for 72 years, a war bride, a member of the Greatest Generation, but much more importantly, a woman who met Christ at the age of 36 and spent the next 55 years serving him with the kind of love and joy you come across only once in an age. She loved her husband, and her family, and nearly everyone else; everyone who met her came away thinking she was Mom. For years of Wednesday night prayer meetings I heard her share prayer requests for people she was concerned about and ministering to.
And here’s the thing. Every one of these people—every one of them—has died, but only sort of. Death, for them, is just an illusion. For them, it is not death to die.
Every one of them is a child of God by faith, a fellow-heir with Jesus Christ, a sinner forgiven by grace through faith. And that means that every one of them is separated, but only temporarily, from the physical body but alive and well in the presence of Christ, safe and rested and painless and at peace, exponentially better off than they were even on their best days here, let alone during those last painful days or moments. But at the same time, they’re looking forward with eager anticipation to better days to come (2Cor 5.1-9).
What could be better than being instantaneously free of pain and sorrow and in the presence of a loving God? Well, there’s more coming for them. The day will come when their discarded bodies will be raised, reconstituted and flawless, impervious to pain, sickness, and death, and reunited with their waiting consciousnesses (1Th 4.16; 1Co 15.20-23, 42-43, 51-55). They’ll be complete again, embodied as they were designed to be, and prepared to serve their God flawlessly, expertly, and eternally.
What a day that will be.