04/13/15 12:22 Filed in: David Ellis
Death – it will take the wind out of your sails. This morning I got the word that a good friend passed away. He lost his short but courageous fight with cancer. As I’m standing here trying to get ready for work I can just feel my energy level seriously depleted as I ponder the news that I just received. And the questions start to pile up in my heart and head. Now what?
Death – it will take the wind out of your sails. This morning I got the word that a good friend passed away. He lost his short but courageous fight with cancer. As I’m standing here trying to get ready for work I can just feel my energy level seriously depleted as I ponder the news that I just received. I am glad that I got to visit with him on one of his last good days less than a week ago.
If you’ve ever lost a loved one you know that there is something in you that gets tapped whenever someone else you care about passes away. You know that your emotions and memories of your own close encounter with death sometimes just need a pin prick to bring them to the surface and although the circumstances might be different, you can still feel the faint shadow of your own experience again.
I lost my dad over 20 years ago yet the death of my friend this morning brings me back. It brings me back to the same type of feelings, emotions and questions. I think the question most people think they are asking during these particularly difficult times is the question of “why?”. But as I think more deeply about what my own heart and mind are pondering, the question is not so much of “why?”, the question is “why not?”
Why not… Give into despair?
Why not… Look at death as the victor?
Why not… Just eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow it’s my turn?
Why not… Believe that death has the final say?
Why not… Take all the seemingly overwhelming evidence that is staring me in my face and chuck this whole belief in a good God who promises me life?
I know that these questions make us all uncomfortable. They make me uncomfortable. And so often I know that my tendency is to think the questions, but never voice them. Never give them their day in court to make their case. I so often just hastily gather them together in a neat little pile. And then carry them down a long dark hallway to a big dark closet with the heavy wooden door where I throw them in and shut the door as quickly as possible. Bolting, chaining and locking the door as best I can, where they will stay and not interrupt my day-to-day life.
I prefer it that way. Our culture prefers it that way. Unfortunately, most churches do as well.
Questions make us uncomfortable.
Questions make us… question.
And in times like this, well intentioned people rush in with answers, usually in the form of nice platitudes, because it is difficult to see someone feel bad.
“Oh, he had a good life.”
“At least his suffering is over.”
“He’s in a better place now.”
I understand why. I do it to myself. I don’t want to let the questions really find their day. Come to the surface. Seek a true and deep answer.
Why? Well, I think it’s because I’m concerned that in the end, I won’t find an answer. That my question of “why not?” will ultimately lead me to despair. That the faith that I’ve hung my hat on will not be able to withstand the heat of the courtroom. That it will crumble when pushed upon.
I had another friend die this past year. He was a young man in his forties with a great family… and he took his own life. For him, the question of “why not?” resulted in him not finding an answer. At least not one that felt real and deep enough to him to keep on living, hoping, believing.
And I think that is what I fear. I think that is what we fear. That if we let the questions linger, that if we let them rise to the surface and stay there without us quickly jumping on them to smother them, that we will ultimately end up there ourselves. Maybe not taking our own life, but having a feeling deep down that there is no good answer to our questions and that all that we say we believe and have bet our life on is, in the end, just smoke and mirrors.
But the book of Ecclesiastes assures us that there is a time for everything. There is a time for answers, but there is also a time for questions. And on this day of mourning for my friend who has lost his battle to cancer, I want to let the questions rise. I want to let them surface. I want to let them rail and lament and hit me with their best shot. Because only in the fire of reality can the reality of God be truly experienced. Only when we let the questions of our deepest fears see the light of day can they ever be faced head-on for what they are. Only in those brutally honest moments is there any hope of finding true freedom.
Even Jesus' closest friends had to face the dark day in between his crucifixion and his resurrection.
So must we.
Truth will never set you free in the deepest and most profound ways until we unlock the innermost parts of ourselves with all the fears and questions that reside there. No, they are not all going to be answered in one single event, nor maybe even ever in this life, because we are incapable of handling them all at once. We will once again sweep them tightly together in one neat little pile and throw them into that dark closet of our hearts, but maybe if we sit with them just a bit longer, let them expand and air out what we really believe deep down so that we can discover a deeper level of Life, the pile won’t be so big next time and the maybe there will be one fewer lock on the door to our hearts.
In the end, that is what God is looking for anyway… access to the real and deepest parts of me.
"you desire truth in the inmost parts…"
Bob – you were a good man and you will be missed. May your courage in facing death serve to give me the courage to ask the questions I have deep down and ultimately drive me into it an even deeper experience of Reality with the One who is big enough to handle all of my doubts, fears and questions.
Dedicated to Robert Johnson. Friend, Ally, Warrior.