I guess we are all different. I am saying that in case you take an odd dislike of mine too personally: I don’t like symmetry of the 2 identical candlesticks each side of the fireplace type! Please don’t be embarrassed or angry if your attention has just gone to your mantelpiece… it is just a Kenny thing but it is real and it is strong. 2 candlesticks on either side of a mantelpiece has the same distress, nerve jangling effect upon me as the sound of fingernails on a blackboard causes to others! Weird I know, but there it is. I am so glad that truly symmetrical faces are quite rare otherwise being a pastor meeting people one to one could have been immensely difficult for me over the years!
I am glad Paul abandons the language of direct symmetry quite often as he writes. He tells us in Romans for example that where sin abounded, God’s grace abounded all the more. The thought is not that the extent of grace and the extent of sin are somehow equidistant but opposite points from some central point on a scale , or equal but opposite points you can plot on a graph. His thought is more along the lines of compare the size of a mouse with the size of an elephant! In that same letter there is another mouse to elephant moment, when he tells us that he is convinced that , “Our current sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory which shall be revealed in us who are called according to God’s purpose”
Well, today, as I waited to see how God would led me about this blog, it was another mouse to elephant verse that came to mind: Paul is in prison and he is writing to the Philippians, wondering out loud in his letter whether he will be put to death or be released. He is pretty sure that he will be released and go on living on earth as he is needed. He also says that it is “win win” for him either way because, as every believer can say, ”For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” However he also says if he was indeed to depart this earthly scene and be with Christ, for him as for any believer that would be “faaaaaaaaaar better!” No equal measurements, no equal and opposite symmetry.
There is no easy way to break the thrust of this blog to you. I am thinking of those of you who have had to face the untimely deaths to those you have loved and who loved you; those who left this life not peacefully after a long and full life, but perhaps with a great struggle, perhaps at what seemed faaaaar too early a stage, when they had all to live for and when they had much to contribute to life still. I think the most difficult deaths I have had to deal with pastorally have been the deaths of children or young people or babies. Even within the family of faith such things are hard to bear. So much hope, so many sincere prayers, so much promise, so much “life” just ended. One of my first funerals as a young minister was for a young and beautiful 12 year old girl, a triplet, who was knocked down in my island parish of Stronsay. My last funeral before retiring was for a much wanted and prayed for baby . Then of course there are the husbands, the wives, the brothers, sisters, the close friends whose deaths came so suddenly, too quickly to prepare for as best as one can prepare for such happenings.
I am talking within the framework of the family of Christ. Can we believe that it is always true that “to depart and be with the Lord is far better?” Sometimes despite tears we can say a genuine “yes.” At other times perhaps our “yes and Amen” is a bit more shaky.
One of the great things about blogging for me is it not only gives an outlet for whatever I used to do in preaching or teaching, but it gives an overtly pastoral outlet as well – though for me pastoring and teaching should be part of the same thing, I hasten to add. Tonight, I simply want to pray for those of you who follow Christ but who feel immense pain and even anger as you think of this claim that to be with Christ is far better. I will do exactly that as soon as i have posted this blog. I pray that somehow the God who helped Paul to say, write and believe that claim with great assurance will help you too.
If I were writing this for someone outside the family of faith, my prayers after writing would be even more pained. As Kenneth Steven says in one of his poems, in this all grown up world where we have abandoned God, we have to cope with the death of children (or any untimely death or tragedy) on our own now. At least, as believers in Christ we have someone to bring our “whys” and tears to, who can help us cope. “Whys” and tears for us are not a cry in the dark, but a cry in the ear of our Father…It is a Heavenly Father thing; He can’t help but see and hear and feel.