It has happened again.
A friend of mine died and I was surprised. I wasn't ready and my thinking was on other things. I was caught off-guard and now I find myself thinking, yet again, that everything comes into its proper light in light of death. Nothing gives perspective like death.
It wasn't a particularly good friend nor had I given him much, if any, thought the last couple of years. But I worked with this man for several years a while back and we shared life together. You know, small talk over coffee, banter and discussions while sorting clothes or carrying furniture (it was a second hand store). Normal work stuff, with the occasional after-work meal.
We talked about faith and God. We talked about politics and workplace concerns. We were very different, him and I. My life has always been pretty well put together. In many ways I am the conservative middle class. Stable upbringing. Church on Sundays. Well educated. Conservative views. Strong family values and life.
His was a much different story. Many struggles. Lots of bad decisions and lots of damage. We were from two different worlds and sometimes it really showed. We didn't always agree, the pastor and the grown-up delinquent, but we were friends.
Pastors many times don't get to meet and get to know people on the side-lines. It is not intentional, it just happens. There is a certain automatic distance between people who have strayed from the narrow path and pastors. Jesus was pretty upset about that, especially with pastors who didn't mind the distance and even worked at keeping it as large as possible.
I enjoyed meeting people like my friend. It was the first time I had really gotten to know people whom I never would have met otherwise. As a pastor I knew that I should know more "down and outs" but I must confess that I didn't know how to. How does one get to know people that are radically different? Where do we meet?
So I enjoyed my friendship and now I am sad that he died. I don't like the saying "passed away" because I feel like it diminishes him. He is not a mist or a shadow. Neither has he "gone away from us". He has stepped into eternity and my mind is full of questions. Which eternity did he step into?
This is the ultimate question, I think. Salvation, Redemption, Justification, Righteousness...these are all questions of a means to an end. What are we saved, redeemed, justified, made righteous to and from? What is it all for?
All to often I don't think about these things and I feel like I should. It is what a pastor should do, right? We of all people should be eternity-minded at all times. What else is there? Global warming? Ecological food? Clean water to poor people? Equal rights for all people? Peace on earth?
All these are important things and some are even very important. But I don't think you need The Church for any of it. Who thinks that we should pollute the earth, spray toxins into the atmosphere, eat dirty food or close our eyes to the effects and problems of poverty and war? Does anyone really need to wait for the Church of Christ to speak up about these issues before acting? I don't think so.
I think the Church can and should be a voice of divine reason in our world today on a host of different topics. God cares about all of life and so should the Church.
...our primary task is to bring souls to Christ for eternal salvation. Death is the reminder. We must all die and at that point nothing else matters. This is simply a fact. When a loved one dies it is an appalling tragedy that shouldn't be allowed to exist. We rage against the dying of the light. The tragedy does exist, but it shouldn't. We were not created for death but for eternal life...that's why it seems so wrong and hurts so much when we are faced with a loved one's death.
A pastor should at all times keep this in mind and direct all his work towards this end. It may sound a bit morbid but I don't know what else could be more important. A pastor should always keep death in mind and never be surprised by it. It is an enemy and it has been overcome.
Thus, a pastor shouldn't despair or be all grim and dour. A pastor should be acutely aware (and sensitive) of the darkness of the world with all its brokenness but he/she should also be acutely aware of the hope that is found in Christ and his salvation to eternal glory.
I don't know where my friend is now but I do know and believe that he is awaiting Judgement Day. It is possible that his soul is in a state of waiting in "Paradise" but that is not for sure. Nevertheless, his life is over and at one point he will stand before the Great White Throne. His name and his life will be for all to see. I know this is true and will happen for all. How can anything compare to the importance of having your name written in the Book of Life at that point?
I pray for comfort and peace for those left behind after my friend. I will do what I can to help out. I will also renew my efforts to keep eternity in mind in all matter of conversations. All of us could do with a little more eternity in our minds and hearts. What path do we tread on our way to death and where will it take us? That is the question.