My family was surprised last week by the passing of my uncle Freddie Tooley. I often wonder why we are shocked when someone passes. We know it will happen one day (Heb. 9:27). Perhaps in this case it was because Freddie was 64, and had not had any major health issues that we knew about. Sixty-four seemed old to me when I was a kid, but I think most of us hope and plan to live into our seventies or eighties. However, there are just not any guarantees.
Freddie was a member of the church, and he passed doing what he liked. He was on his tractor riding across his farm when he was hit by a heart attack. These things should make it easier for us to let go of our loved ones, but we selfishly wish to have more time with them. Even though we know that they have passed on to a better place; we wish for them to be back. We want to have a little more time to say or do things that were left undone.
The closest we are going to get in this life is the time that we have to visit at the funeral home. The comfort comes from seeing relatives and friends that we have not seen in years. It is a distraction from the occasion to talk with these people and to share stories of fond memories and fun times. In Freddie’s case I was glad to hear how faithful he had been to the church. I knew that he had obeyed the gospel a few years ago, but that is about all I knew.
In many cases people profess to be obedient to Christ, but instead of their whole heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37) they give mediocrity. I found relief in hearing that was not what Freddie had been giving. I heard stories of how many times he was the first one at the church building to open the doors. He had a special seat that he sat in to ring a bell to let people know when Bible class was finished. He took watermelons and other produce that he raised to people on a regular basis. This is the example that we need to be. In fact, the night that he passed, his wife knew something was wrong when she arrived home to find that he was not there getting ready for or already gone to church. These are stories of comfort, but it is still difficult.
I wish that we could have the attitude of David in 2 Samuel 12. David’s son, born in adultery and murder, was struck with illness by the Lord because of the sins that had been involved. While the child was sick David was mournful. He fasted and lay on the ground. The elders could not even get him up. When the child died the men were afraid to tell David. However, David figured out from their actions that the child had died. He did not react as they expected. He got up, cleaned himself, changed his clothes, and went to eat. At this point they really thought David had lost it. When questioned, David explained that the child was dead, and that he could not bring him back. David said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me (2 Sam. 12:15-23).” Again, I wish that we could have this attitude, but it is difficult.
Perhaps the most difficult part is at the graveside. We know that the body of our loved one is going to be buried, and we will not see them again. We forget that David informed us that we can go to them. Yet that body is what we associate with physical pleasures we recall of the person. However, Paul has told us that we cannot go to heaven in the body we have on earth (1 Cor. 15:50-58). When we die in Christ we will join him in the air one day; we should comfort each other with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18). We can go to them, but they cannot return to us (Luke 16:19-31).