"One can never he the judge of another's grief That which is a sorrow to one, to another is joy. Let us not dispute with any one concerning the reality of his sufferings; it is with sorrows as with countries - each man has his own." -- Chateaubriand
We have all known a winter of the spirit, a time of cheerless days and dark nights, when perhaps we sit alone and bring to mind those "loved long since, and lost awhile". Our thoughts turn back to memories of sunnier and happier days. And if we have recently laid to rest someone very near and dear, in our grief and loneliness they seem to be nothing more than a memory. Although there were years of happy and eventful association, walking together down both the barren and the flowered paths, in health and in sickness, in darkness and in light, still the separation seems final and painful; the only thing left is a memory.
These are the dark thoughts which come to us; heavy clouds of doubt and despair hang over us. Life seems to have lost much of its vigor and purpose. How shall we lift our thoughts above the transient world of pain, struggle and spiritual blindness and come to an understanding of the meaning of death and the relationship between the heavens and the earth.
There are many passages from the Word of God which are reassuring to those who have suffered the loss of the presence of loved ones; passages which declare in a clear and forceful way that these faithful servants are still living; they are not sleeping in their graves; they are indeed immortal.
On one occasion certain of the Sadducees, members of a sect which did not believe in a resurrection after death, approached the Lord with the intent of discrediting His teachings on this subject. They craftily posed what they believed to be an incriminating question. But the Lord saw their ill-concealed purpose and countered with a forthright reply. He did not insist that the Sadducees take His word for confirmation of life after death. He referred them to Moses whom they acknowledged as the law-giver of the Hebrew people. The Lord told them to hark back to the account of Moses as he kept watch over the sheep at the Horeb, when the Lord appeared to him and do dared: "I am the God of thy father, the God of Jacob the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob". The meaning of these words is obvious. If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were no longer existent He would have said, "I was the God of thy father, the God of Abraham", etc. "I am" clearly implies that the relationship still exists, even though these Hebrew patriarchs had been gathered unto their fathers for some three or four hundred years. The inference to be drawn from the Lord's words iS that these men of ancient time are still living; Jehovah is still their God; He continues to watch over them; He is now, at this moment, interested in their welfare.
The Lord not only declared that He is still the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but in the Gospel according to Matthew He said: "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven". These three men who played such a vital part in early Old Testament history are now dwelling in heaven.
"But where is Heaven?" the skeptic may ask. The Apostle Paul declared that man has a material body and a spiritual body, and whenever man comes into the conscious use of his spiritual eyes and ears he is indeed living in that great world beyond. From Scriptural evidence it can be seen that everyone of us possesses all of the faculties necessary to live in that spiritual realm where our loved ones are now dwelling. To recall only a few Biblical incidents: Peter, James and John, many of the Old Testament prophets and the two women at the sepulchre experienced, for a time, other-world events.
Keeping in mind that the transition we call death is nothing more than an ending of the use of the physical body, and a beginning of the conscious use of the spiritual faculties, will do much to take from death the sense of fear and over-powering grief which it can create.
It is unfortunate that many people do not recognize the closeness of the spiritual world; they do not realize how very near are those now in the other life. This is a great tragedy - and it need not be. The Lord does not want us to feel the complete absence of loved ones who have completed their life on earth. The Lord does not want to hide from us the kind of life they are now living. Search the Scripture, know the unchanging love of God, and the other life will come so near that you can feel its presence by an inward glow, by a feeling of peace felicity and contentment which nothing in this world can give. The truth is, the Lord does not take loved ones away from man. Because man is totally preoccupied with the concerns of this world he has shut heaven out of his life. Man has kept the angels at a distance. And in his blindness, and his ignorance, he attributes to the Lord a wilful intent to deprive him of those whom he loves. This is a tragedy of man's faith - a tragedy of his own making.
This unawareness of the comforting presence of angels is especially unfortunate for it is within our power to feel the delight of their being close at hand. The Lord Himself assures us that "those loved long since and lost awhile" are not really separated from us but are now living in that inner world, the same world in which we are also living, except that we are not conscious of it. We may not be able to touch them with our hands, or see them with the eyes of the physical body; outwardly they lead a life quite apart from ours, but when we are bound to them by the eternal ties of mutual affection they are as near to us as they ever were. The incident of death cannot change this vital relationship for it is an integral part of the Lord's purpose. Man is forever bound to those whom he loves. The greater the love the closer the conjunction with those of a similar affection. The truth is not altered by death of the physical body for it is based upon spiritual realities.
Whenever one is torn by grief and doubts as to the existence of life after death, let him take his Bible and read the many passages where the Lord permitted man to have a glimpse of the other world. Read of Abraham's meeting with three angels at the door of his tent and how he conversed with them. And Paul while on the road to Damascus heard a voice not of this world speaking to him. Later in his missionary career he tells of being taken up into the third heaven. And how much comfort the doubting heart can find in reading the story of Easter morning at the tomb. Two angels spoke to the grief-stricken women and told them of the Lord's resurrection from the dead. Later on we read that the spiritual eyes of John were opened while he was on the isle of Patmos and he was instructed by a voice to write down the things which were to be revealed to him - events which took place in the other life. His record is found in the Book of Revelation.
These are only a few of the many instances to be found in the Scripture. One need not go further to find divine assurances that our loved ones are still living in the fullest sense of the word.
When we call to remembrance those who have been released from the body of mortal clay,let us keep in mind the eternalties of affection uniting us forever with those whom we truly love. Our task is to so live that when the time comes for us to leave this world we will have overcome the frailties of our nature, and we shall be proven worthy of joining the angels in their heavenly home. May the quality of our life be such that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be able to mould us into His image and likeness as He did these Hebrew patriarchs of Old Testament days. The Lord works through the ministry of angels; we must be responsive to their influence we must not allow worldliness and self-centeredness to close the door to their approach. Their influence will be strengthened by a constant exercise of love in Our daily life. And these moments of remembrance can help us to rededicate our hearts and minds to unfinished tasks which must be completed before we too can be led into a new and wonderful life by Our Heavenly Father.
This poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, the poet who has given us some of our best loved hymns, expresses a faith in life after death:
Yet love will dream and Faith will trust
(Since He who knows our need is just)
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.
Alas for him who never sees
The stars shine through the cypress trees!
Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
Nor looks to see the breaking day
Across the mournful marbles play!
Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever Lord of Death,
And Love can never lose its own.