The end of January is approaching, and still the plans for this year are up in the air. Uncertainty, fear, sorrow surround us. How are you bearing up?
I have lost a number of friends to Covid, to cancer, to heart problems this past year. Each loss brings its own sadness, its own regret at a life potentially not yet fulfilled, a gap that I have no idea how to fill.
A young friend sent a message this morning crying out her pain as she struggles to come to terms with the death of a friend, a young man with a powerful testimony of redemption, who leaves a young family. As I prayed for words of comfort I realised that I need to think through all the people I have lost since the outbreak of this awful pandemic and ask myself: How am I dealing with the losses?
I have been through a gamut of emotions from fear to anger to grief to numb acceptance. I have gone from crying at the sight of musicians comforting neighbours on balconies in Italy and elsewhere to dry-eyed non-reaction to the news of another shocking passing.
A few weeks into hard lockdown I woke up one night, fear pulsing through me, panic took over. I am asthmatic and I know how it feels to not be able to draw breath into your lungs. There were many gruesome descriptions flooding the ether of the cruel, horrendous death covid-19 inflicts. I imagined the warm mucous filling my lungs; the isolation; the horror of not being able to say goodbye to my sons and grandchildren.
I am emotional, so every picture of brave souls singing from their balconies in Italy, the flypast to the strains of Nessun Dorma had me bawling, I listened to the Four Tenors, and their one number Anchor Me filled me with a sense of what we were facing, and I didn’t think I could bear it.
Thank the Lord I am the leader of a group of ladies in our church, and knowing I had a responsibility to care for them helped me get out of bed each morning. The same sense made other leaders in our church check on me and within a few days the worst of the panic subsided. I needed to go through that, to understand my own fears and weakness, to test my resolve and my faith, not for my wellbeing alone, but to be capable of taking the role the Lord had given me to minister effectively to those who needed His word and comfort.
As the reality of Covid moved nearer home, the figures from the Western Cape were concerning, hospitals filled, equipment was in short supply, people began dying. Soon a familiar name appeared on the list of the ill. Then the first acquaintance died. Then a close friend went home to be with the Lord. I was devastated. I have no idea if his death was Covid related, it didn’t matter, he was gone.
The disparagement of some around me was hard to deal with. The questions asked on WhatsApp, Facebook and other fora by denialists:
annoyed me. I found them tasteless and derogatory of the suffering of those who were ill, and insulting to the memory of those who died breathless and alone. Their deaths should not be taken any less respectfully regardless of number or cause.
As a Christian I believe in life after death, I believe in Heaven and I believe there is a place called Hell. I believe the visa requirement for heaven is through Jesus Christ, whom I believe to be the Son of the living God, the great I AM. I do not believe that I am evolved from a fish, or any other life form, I do not accept that some arbitrary cosmic explosion created the world I inhabit, its workings are way too genius to be accidental. My response to death and suffering are, as I assume are most of ours, formed by my beliefs, and in times of grief I turn to Scripture for comfort.
It is in these familiar words that I am able to change the narrative of my fear and grief because I have learnt over the decades to trust the promises contained therein, and as I focus on them I find that peace, that which passes all understanding promised by Jesus on the eve of His sacrificial death, slowly encroaches my soul, and I can breathe again.
In the past six weeks the number of people I know who have died is fast approaching double figures. The sadness is dry, the words I send the best I can think of to express an emotion that I am not able to recognise right now. How do we deal with this, day in day out, month in month out, and soon maybe year in and year out? How do we retain the compassion we saw a year ago, when the horror of the pandemic broke in Italy, and all over the world people reached out to people? How is that we have succumbed so quickly to Covid fatigue, how easily we have returned to bickering for our rights, complaining about every move Governments take to protect us, or the moves they have not taken to protect us.
My parents’ generation knew what it was like to do without year after year, residents in countries torn asunder by civil war have learnt to live with depredation. Yet all I hear is whingeing and complaining. My heart breaks for those whose businesses have collapsed, for all who have lost jobs, homes, whatever. But if you don’t have a solution, or a better idea of how to manage this, then please try and look for the positive.
I have heard of so much creativity during this time, people willing to change their mindsets and as a result they are making it. In most cases they have put aside their own agendas, their own standards possibly and are happy to make do with less in order to have something. They see beyond the immediate, they look with hope to a future they intend to be a part of, and to ensure others have a hope in that future too.
These tales put me in mind of God’s love, His redemptive plan of salvation wrought on that cross some 2000 years ago, that sacrificial love that led to an act of unutterable mercy that still reaches out to each one of us today, promising a future where the sting of death is no more, where peace and joy exist.
Paul, writing to the Hebrews, cries out: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Why? Why should we not harden our hearts? Quite simply because Jesus Christ not only died for that we might be reconciled to the Father, but because He rose from the dead.
Paul again, in 1 Corinthians 15, vv50-57:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: death is swallowed up in victory.
O, Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus Himself told us this in John 14 vv1-4
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am there you may be also. And where I go and the way you know.
Thomas said to Him, “Lord we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him. I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’
This statement has been called arrogant by many unwilling to believe His claims, but He was the one Who laid down His life, died an excruciating death, for you and me, because He loves us enough to do whatever it takes to make sure we spend the rest of eternity with Him, in Heaven. I think that gives Him the right to make the statement. No other deity, in any religion, has gone that far for their followers. His death has never been disputed, only His resurrection, and that too was, and is proven beyond any reasonable doubt.
For those who have died in the Lord, I see them being taken home, to one of those rooms, removed from the burdens of this life, with a ringing “Well done, good and faithful servant!” For those who have denied Him, I grieve and pray that at the last they repented and that I will see them when it is my time to join that happy throng.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Revelation 3:20 Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door I will come into him and dine with him and he with me.
Romans 8;37-39 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, no things present nor things to come,
Nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Psalm 23:4 Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.
Psalm 91:1-16 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in Him I will trust.
Surely He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence
He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look and see the reward of the wicked
Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High your dwelling place
No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwellings;
For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honour him.
With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation.
All scripture references are from the New King James Version.