The other day I received an e-mail from my sister, telling me that our uncle Bob had just died. I knew that he had been fighting for his health for some time, and I also knew that his wife of more than 50 years and his family were grief-stricken. Although I hadn't seen him in 15 years and we lived thousands of miles apart, we'd kept in touch, and I, too, was sad.
I turned in prayer to God for an answer of consolation.
One immediate idea that occurred to me was how I appreciated Uncle Bob's life. He had dedicated his life to his fellow man as an evangelical preacher, and he had helped many people lead purer lives, in line with one of his favorite texts, the Sermon on the Mount from the Scriptures.
Over 30 years ago, he had given me his blessing when he performed the marriage ceremony for me and my bride. Though well past retirement age, he still kept himself informed of current events and thought deeply about the Christian's response to them.
Then I remembered some times from my childhood that I'd spent with Uncle Bob. He was fresh out of divinity school, and I was a very small child, but I was fascinated by his copy of "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible." He taught me how to look up words from the Bible and find the original Hebrew and Greek meanings, and how this could result in new ideas. I still do this every day.
Just this morning I looked up the word keeper from the verse in Psalms "The Lord is thy keeper" (121:5) and found that the Hebrew shamar implies a guard, protection, and a hedge against trouble. It gave me a sense of God's power actively working in my behalf. My sadness turned completely to gratitude that my uncle had opened this marvelous door for me to better understand the Bible and apply its promises to everyday challenges.
At this point, I found another verse from Psalms: "The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works" (104:31). I realized that Uncle Bob was one of God's works, and that God rejoices in him. My uncle is not erased, a memory that will grow ever more blurry. God continues to delight in him, so my uncle still lives. My Quaker grandmother used to say of the departed, "He's just gone into another room in our Father's mansion."
I believe this is true of all those who have passed from our sight. They live on, and not just as memories. God still maintains their identities; they are conscious, and they are finding ways to be useful. God's rejoicing implies to me an active, ongoing existence for our loved ones. We miss them in our here and now, but I find an awesome comfort in realizing that God's protection and rejoicing are active and ongoing.
Grief is not our duty. We aren't evaluated as to how much we loved the departed by how much we grieve. This would imply that God isn't a very good keeper that some of His dear children ought to feel bereaved and deprived. Not so. God's infinitely tender love is enough to embrace and comfort us all, whether here on earth or not.
Whether those we loved had a long span of years or not, God's comforting love can give us the conviction that their lives were not wasted, that no final sad scene could mock the good they accomplished, and that we need not be burdened with grief, gloom, or bitterness.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, wrote in one of her poems:
Love wipes your tears all away,
And will lift the shade of gloom,
And for you make radiant room
Midst the glories of one endless day.
("Poems," pg. 75).
All God's ideas live throughout eternity in His radiant room. None of us need to feel bereaved or deprived. We can shed the gloom to take part in God's rejoicing in the safe, endless, ongoing life of His creation, which includes all His ideas, for all eternity.
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.
Psalm 30: 11