What Is Life?
This week our family faced a very difficult time with the loss of a loved one, a young man in his twenties with life ahead of him. I'm sure we thought what the rest of his family and friends were thinking: why? Why this young man? Why not someone who is old or sick or evil? Why Lord?
I don't write today with any glib answers. Let's face it. This is tough stuff. We're stunned. We're hurting. We don't understand.
Perhaps you also have had something similar happen to you. A son, daughter, husband, or wife. We search for answers. It's OK to ask those questions. It's natural to wonder why.
There's really only one place to go: God's Word. There's a story that addresses some of what many of us are feeling. It's found in John's Gospel, the 11th chapter. Here we read of a funeral that involved hard questions, deep feelings, and budding hope.
The deceased is a man named Lazarus. He comes from a very close family. Among them are two sisters, Mary and Martha. Like our family member, he came from a good family and had a bunch of friends -- and one of his best friends was Jesus.
Jesus arrives four days after Lazarus dies, and as he approaches the house full of people crying, both sisters run out to him at separate times and say: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
I suspect some of you have made "If" statements as well.
"If only I had spent more time with him."
"If only I had been nicer."
"If only I had done this -- or that."
These kinds of "If" questions are normal.
Don't blame yourself. It's not healthy and it's not right.
So, if we're not supposed to blame ourselves, then maybe God is to blame for this. That's precisely the implication both sisters make when they are grieving over the death of their brother:
Lord, if YOU had been here, my brother would not have died.
I've learned that it's senseless to either accuse God or to try to defend Him. But neither is it sinful to question Him. We wonder, why would God allow this to happen? It's OK to ask these kinds of questions. Jesus does not scold these sisters for suggesting that perhaps he could have prevented their brother's death and because he wasn't there it was somehow his fault.
Don't feel guilty for wondering if there was something God could have done. God could have kept death at bay, but for some reason, He didn't.
As we continue the story, surrounded by family and friends, Jesus is deeply moved and asks where the body of Lazarus is. When he views Lazarus' grave, he could have said something extremely profound. Instead, scripture tells us simply that "he wept."
Here is Jesus, fully man, fully God, attending the funeral of a friend and openly weeping, without embarrassment and without apology. In fact, those watching him said, "See how much he loved him!"
God wants to help you work through everything you're feeling. God knows what it's like to hurt. One day, He lost a family member too, His one and only son.
Jesus said to Mary and Martha in verses 25-26: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"
Jesus didn't merely say that there is a resurrection. He claimed that HE is the resurrection. The fact that he would rise from the dead was the guarantee that others would too.
We often think that this is the land of the living and that when we die, we go to the land of the dead. The opposite is really true. This land is the land of the dying. When our life here is over, we are transferred into the land of the living -- either to a place of eternal joy or to a place of eternal torment. There are only two possible destinations. Where will you go when it's your time to die?
James 4:14 says, "For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."
This young man was not planning to die when he did, but since life is like a vapor that appears for a little while and then passes away, it was his time to go. None of us know what will happen to us either. Our lives are very fragile, aren't they?
Proverbs 27:1 reminds us not to boast about tomorrow because we don't know what a day will bring forth. Some people are always talking about what they're going to do and then they never do anything.
"One of these days, I'm going to do this."
"I'll tackle this later." But, later may never come.
This passage gives us two very significant reasons why we should never presume upon the future.
First: life is unpredictable. We don't even know what will happen tonight, much less next week or next year.
Second: life is brief. Our lives are like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. The Greek word here is atmos, from which we get the word "atmosphere," which is the invisible layer of water vapor encircling our planet. Our lives are like a mist int he grand scheme of things.
Life is too unpredictable and brief to live without God at the center. We count our lives in years, but God tells us in Psalm 90:12 to number our days. All of us are just one heartbeat away from eternity.
In 1 Samuel 20:3, David said, "Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death." Our lives are like a vapor -- here one minute and gone the next.
On this earth, the vapor fades, the step between life and death is taken. But that is not the end; it's not all there is. As I mentioned above, we exist in the land of the dying, and if we know Christ as our savior when we die, we enter the eternal land of the living.