“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
She captures my thoughts today. My Amelia Jane.
I probably don’t have to tell you why. A tragic ending to a fragile young life has made the national headlines, stunning the Christian community and forcing a family to deal with the unexpected and unwelcomed intruder named death.
Maria Sue Chapman, five-year-old daughter of singer/songwriter Steven and Mary Beth Chapman, has left the arms of her earthly parents to make her entrance into the arms of her heavenly Father. A life gone too soon. Five years of loving a child is simply not enough. It is a grief that struggles to reconcile fact with faith. A hard reckoning in my opinion, but one that becomes necessary for all who walk its candid and cold embrace.
My mind and my heart cannot frame it. It strikes a chord within me, as it has with so many of you. Death does that. It strikes. It resounds. It penetrates the silence with the deafening chorus of a truth better left unsung, or so we think. It is a truth that follows our entrance into this world. A truth that will mark our exit from it. A truth that simply and poetically scripts …
We were born to die.
From the moment we first breathed the air of our temporal, we began our journey home to our eternal. It is the way of things. Always has been. We shouldn’t be surprised by death’s arrival; still and yet, it almost always strikes an unexpected chord with a precision that leaves us to grapple with its certainty.
And unless the Lord returns in our lifetime, death will be our required portion.
The Apostle Paul asks us to keep our focus in times of trouble. To understand that our temporary afflictions are achieving, accomplishing, and producing an eternal glory that far exceeds are pain. To perceive the unseen and to believe that the unseen surpasses our current fracture. To keep heart, even though our hearts shatter and scatter with the winds of adversity that howl loudly and break hard.
A difficult striving.
For in our flesh, death always limits perspective. Our flesh cries out for the temporary…for the immediate…for the right now. A tomorrow’s work will have to wait because today’s tears are all that can be absorbed.
How can anyone begin to walk in an understanding that limits the “current” to seemingly nothing more than a monument to learning…to becoming…to moving on to a yet to be grasped perfection? How can death be parametered into a pill that swallows smoothly? What do we do with a grief whose bite seems lethal and whose gnaw continually chews? How do we fix our eyes on anything but the casket that currently cradles our sorrow?
Paul doesn’t ask us to turn away from a casket’s gaze. He doesn’t ask us to quickly get over our grief and move beyond. Instead, he simply and poetically asks us to gaze deeper into death’s frame. His thoughts are not callous or removed…a script meant for a stage some 2000 years ago. No, Paul’s words are exactly the words of comfort we need in times of sorrow because a human life is more than flesh and blood. Our fragile frames embody both the seen and the unseen…the temporal and the eternal.
God has created us in his image (Genesis 1:26-27) and set eternity into the hearts of all people (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This sets us apart from all of his other created works. So when Paul asks us to fix our eyes on the unseen and the eternal in times of momentary affliction, he gives us permission to mourn our loss. So does our Creator, for with our tears we acknowledge a human life for what it is.
A created flesh covering an eternal pulse. The seen cloaking the unseen. The momentary shrouding the never-ending.
This is why our grief is real.
This is why we can say good-bye to “things” with little fret, but when it comes to people, our fret is palpable and deep.
This is why we can find hope, even in the midst of a tremendous grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
For when death visits a life, perfection finds its home. The unseen begins when the seen embraces its end. The eternal breathes its fullest when the momentary breathes its last. The glory finds its brilliance when the temporary finds its dull. The heavens chorus its applause when the earth silences its song.
And while it’s true…we were born to die…the greater and final truth is this.
We die so that we can fully live.
Eternally. Without restraints. Without affliction. Without sorrow. Without endings. Without good-byes.
This is the perspective I need today as I live and breathe the truth of a family’s grief. Maria Sue has found her life, even as her fragile frame has found its death. It is the same for each one of us as we draw ever nearer to tasting a similar portion.
Let us not shrink back from dealing with our grief. Let us not hide from its bitter taste. Instead, let us bravely acknowledge the hope that pulses beyond every death. Let us fix our eyes on the Creator who created each person to breathe an earthly life’s span and then to breathe an eternal life forever.
He is where I’m headed, friends. And should we never meet face to face on this side of forever, I will meet you there where we will share in our Father’s happiness for always.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of his comforting and abiding Holy Spirit, I ask and pray and believe all these things in my heart. How I pray you believe them too.
Copyright © May 2008 – Elaine Olsen. All rights reserved.