My grandmother died on Friday, August 12, 2016. I’ve thought about whether to write about this, how to write about this, and if it was even possible to intro this delicately. No matter how I’ve approached the topic it’s always this blunt fact staring me in the face. Not allowing me tact or suave. It’s raw and real and maybe it’s supposed to be that way.
Most would say it was cancer that caused this. It’s true, she did have cancer. She fought several rounds with cancer and by God’s grace beat most of them, even the one when we almost lost her a few years ago due to the removal surgery alone.
Last Monday I was told my grandmother had twenty-four hours to live. I felt as though my heart were ripped out of my chest and all I could do was stare at it beating in front of me. Yet, all the Biblical truths I’ve read about came pouring back into my soul, sustaining me and giving me the grace to take the next breath, no matter how painful, and keep moving forward.
Grace From the Past
True to form, my first question was “Why?” Why did this have to happen? Why her? Why when my son is only seventeen months old? Why when my wife had only had the chance to know her for a few years, after having already lost the grandmother she was closest to? The answer came flooding to me from back in the days of Creation, from back in Genesis 3. Yes, it is indeed because Adam and Eve sinned and rebelled against God and fractured the good creation of God. But there’s something deeper in that text that makes God’s grace shine through the darkness of The Fall.
Genesis 3:22-24 ESV
22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
Everyone knows and talks about the first tree in the Garden of Eden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This verse is about the second tree, the tree of life, and God graciously preventing man from eating of it. Man had already died spiritually due to their rebellion against God. God had a choice to make here. He could have allowed man to eat of the tree of life, but this would make man live forever in the fallen, sinful flesh they now possessed. It would have been a just punishment, to live separate from a righteous God for all eternity. But God, with redemption through Jesus in mind, kicked them out of the Garden of Eden so that they would be able to die and be free of their fallen flesh and be able to be united with God again one day through the blood of Jesus. Man dies because God was kind to us. It’s a truth that’s almost impossible to swallow, but it’s right there in black and white forcing itself upon us.
So, in the end, cancer was not the cause, but the means by which Jesus chose to bring my grandmother home to Him, and free her from this world that is but a fractured reflection of His great glory.
Grace in the Future
My grandmother loved Jesus, and she prayed for her whole family for longer than I’ve been alive. She was a prayer warrior, and I have no doubt that if she is able to in Heaven that she is talking to Jesus about us still, asking for His grace and strength to be near to us now, and to save those who have not yet confessed Christ as Lord and Savior. I don’t know whether that’s possible, but I do know that I’ll see her again one day when Jesus returns or when I step into the other side of eternity.
As much as I await that day, and as true of a fact as it is, seeing my grandmother again just isn’t a big enough or high enough hope to sustain the dark night of the soul. Because as glorious as that will be, it would still be placing hope in creation rather than the Creator. And any time we look to creation over Creator it always lets us down. Every single time.
But the reason why I can hope for that is because there exists a much bigger hope, a bigger promise of redemption and reconciliation. An oath of God’s grace made manifest in its final form. The day when the Father says “Enough” and King Jesus comes back with a sword and declares this cosmic battle between good and evil as complete, vanquishing the power of sin, death, and Satan. The day when this place will be refined and filled with the light of Christ and the glory of God. The day when the hope we have in Christ will come to final fruition and not disappoint those who believe in Jesus.
As much as I look forward to seeing my grandmother again, comparing the glory of that to the glory of being in the presence of God and feeling his tangible grace and mercy for eternity is like comparing the light of a lightning bug to the awe-inspiring radiance of the sun.
Grace in the Present
Yet, even after meditating on these truths for days, I still came to my last “Why?” Knowing these truths, why does it still hurt so much? Why does it pierce my soul and leave me downcast? The only answer I have come up with is “Because it’s supposed to hurt.”
Death is supposed to shake us to the core, not just because of the immense personal loss, but because death is the loudest symbol, the clearest picture of what has gone wrong in creation. We can chalk lesser pain up to a myriad of other things, but death pushes us beyond ourselves and our rationale and forces us to ask the “Why?” questions that we so easily avoid asking in other situations.
If we take a moment and listen, we’ll hear God shouting through our pain. We’ll hear God pressing us and pulling us to take the gospel more seriously. We’ll feel him pushing us to fight our sinful desire for autonomy even harder by resting in his grace and praying for ability to submit all the more to his Lordship.
Or perhaps some will hear God shouting that what I have been able to say about seeing my grandmother again and spending eternity with God isn’t true for them because they haven’t confessed Christ as Lord and Savior. They’re still running from God’s grace and willfully rebelling against King Jesus. To those, God is screaming “COME HOME!” Stop trying to live under your own broken strength and sinful will, and come home. Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
So even in the sting of death itself, we find God’s grace calling out to us.