Where did they go?
A poignant question, when loved ones pass away. And the question is even more disquieting if – as with the victims of recent tragedies – people are missing as the result of sudden violent events. In these cases, families grieve that they cannot see their loved ones for one last time.
Yet, at the funerals or memorial services connected with these events, we so often hear the 23rd Psalm, with these words of consolation: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” In the Bible, these words are preceded by “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Here the shepherd, who in biblical times had an important role maintaining the safety of the flock, is God, who keeps His children well-fed and safe.
But is the Shepherd still there if something happens, and a loved one doesn’t make it? Is there comfort, even then, rather than loneliness, or extinction? The psalm reassuringly says that the Shepherd, God, who never ceases to exist, is always there – even in the valley.
Just as a valley is the lower area between two mountains, so an interval is the space between two moments. Yet, Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote that one moment of understanding what God really is provides a glimpse of permanent, uninterruptible harmony. “This exalted view,” she wrote, “obtained and retained when the Science of being is understood, would bridge over with life discerned spiritually the interval of death, and man would be in the full consciousness of his immortality and eternal harmony, where sin, sickness, and death are unknown” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 598).
This kind of reasoning is not abstract or philosophical. It coincides with Jesus’ teachings about eternal life, and it sustained me solidly when my husband passed on a few years ago.
I was alone with him at home. A few minutes after he had passed away, the words “never born and never dying” rang vividly in my thought. I looked up the whole sentence in Science and Health: “Never born and never dying, it were impossible for man, under the government of God in eternal Science, to fall from his high estate” (p. 258).
These words tenderly told me that my husband’s life had never descended below its original status in the reality of God’s existence – it had never had a beginning by birth or an end by death, and had never really passed through an interval; it had never fallen into “the valley of the shadow of death.”
I felt closer to my husband by knowing that he had never left the presence of God. And I didn’t need to look for him in an inert body that did not represent his real identity. I knew where he truly was, and I was sure that the tender Shepherd had never stopped and never would stop caring for either of us. God’s infinite love was very obvious to me, and I was not disturbed. This actually enabled me to actively carry on with my own life over the following days and months.
Yes, God, the Shepherd, is always there. The spiritual reality where each son and daughter of God has always lived is intact. And those bereaved families who cannot pay their last respects to the loved ones who remain missing after a tragic event can trust that, even so, each one of them will always be in the continuous presence of God and His love.
Originally published in the November 12, 2001, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.