Saturday, June 21, 2014

Maybe it was the best thing that could have happened to them

Just a little over a week ago, I was driving my daughter around our district so she could take photos for a Digital Photography assignment. She was putting together a calendar of landmarks around our town. For part of it, we were rambling through our old country cemetery. It was sad to see graves of children who hadn't lived to see their first birthday. There were several tandem graves of spouses who'd died several years apart but were reunited at last. Some graves were dated from the 1800s, faded, and covered with lichen. Others were recently dug with brand new tombstones. Although it's a lovely old place in its own way, we were happy to leave.

Thoughts of death leave me melancholy, especially when people are taken prematurely. But I was thinking of our recent cemetery walk when I read some interesting thoughts by Max Lucado. He was musing about the fact that although the Bible mentions a countless number of healing miracles performed by Jesus, there are only three records of His raising people from the dead. These were Jairus' daughter, the boy in his coffin near Nain, and Lazarus. Why so few? Lucado wonders if it's because Jesus knew that in most cases, He'd be doing folk no favours by bringing them back. Once somebody gets to heaven, it's like a homecoming. The last thing they would want is to be whisked back to their life on earth.

That makes sense to me when I think of some of the Biblical deaths which have disturbed me. From the very start, why did God allow Cain to murder Abel? It's all very well to say, "Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground," but why allow such a terrible thing to happen when He could have prevented it?

Last year, when we were watching the Bible series on TV, Emma found herself deeply touched by the story of the first Passover. If you haven't seen it, Pharoah's first born son was depicted as a cute little boy, his father's pride and joy. Of course, when death passed over Egypt that night, stealing the first born sons who weren't protected by the blood over their door lintels, that little prince was among them. Emma said, 'Whenever I read that story, I always thought of him as some adult dude, as bad as his father. Not as an innocent little boy. It wasn't fair.' I reminded her that, of course, he wouldn't have been the only innocent child to die that night.

The first son of David and Bathsheba died as a baby. It seemed unfair for him to be taken because of what they did. It wasn't his fault. And how about the thousands of Hebrew baby boys who were cruelly slain by the rulers at the time Moses was born, and the time Jesus was born. I hate it!

But the son of the wicked Jeroboam I, the first ruler of Israel when it split from Judah, put things into perspective. His story is told in 1Kings 14. Young Abijah became very sick, and his mother disguised herself as a commoner and went to a prophet to inquire about what would happen to her son. The man instantly knew who she was, and said these words. 'Go home, and when you enter the city, the child will die. All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only member of your family who will have a proper burial, for this child is the only good thing that the Lord, the God of Israel, sees in the entire family of Jeroboam.'   

That brings me right back to Max Lucado's theory. This boy was allowed to die because he was good! Death was a reward rather than a punishment. Being taken from the world early was God's protection from the future. Perhaps we're shortsighted when we assume that it must always be a calamity and a bad thing.

Next, I think of the way this is reflected in literature. In Natalie Babbitt's book, 'Tuck Everlasting,' which also became a movie, the hero Jesse Tuck and his family discover that drinking from a particular stream gives them immortality. No matter what physical blows they receive, it's impossible for them to die. Winnie, the heroine, falls in love with Jesse and almost succombs to the temptation to drink from the stream. Instead, she resists it and dies a normal death in old age. I remember the end of the movie, when lonely Jesse, just as young and handsome but now about one hundred years in the future, stands by her grave, knowing that she made the right choice.

And for those of us who love fantasy, remember the poor old alchemist, Nicolas Flamel, from the first Harry Potter book? When he decides to destroy the philosopher's stone, which was keeping himself and his wife alive, Harry knows that now they will die. Professor Dumbledore tells him, 'To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Peronelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day.'

This is a very simplistic analogy, but maybe when we our turn comes to join those in the next life, instead of being sad, it will be like my Wii Fit icon making it to the end of the jogging course. She throws up her hands in triumph as flowers and streamers fall around her, other little people cheer her on, and the program makes a 'Ta-Da' noise, backed by happy music. And I'm relieved to flop back on the couch because I was looking forward to the end. Although the jog around the virtual island was good, I wouldn't want it to be prolonged any longer.

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