Thoughts on life, death, and if God even exists.
“He’s in a better place.”
I was sixteen years old when my maternal grandfather passed away. He was my first close family member to die, and so I was ushered into the confusing world of wakes, funerals, and graveside services. As we stood greeting what seemed to be hundreds of people that I didn’t know, I was introduced to each one with a clarification of their connection to my life. But at sixteen, there is only one thing that I was thinking about, and that was the fact that someone that I loved was lying motionless in the casket behind us.
I had no idea how to process this reality. I had thought about death before, but this brought it SO very close to home. And with each person that passed through the line, comfort seemed further and further away.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“He was a good man.”
“He would have given anyone the shirt off his back.”
“It’s okay, don’t cry. He’s in a better place.”
At one point, I wanted to respond to that last question with this: “How do you know that?” Sure, Grandpa was a man who had returned to his faith later in life and confessed Jesus as His Lord and Savior, but the heart of his teenage grandson was not comforted by mere religious conjecture. I needed something stronger, something that was secure.
I needed proof.
I still see this today, decades later. Now, as a pastor who has grown incredibly comfortable at wakes, funerals, and gravesides (I know, this shocks me as much as you), I regularly witness people struggle to articulate comfort, empathize well, to camp out with others in the grief of loss. And I believe that it is for one reason: we just don’t know what happens when we die. It’s one big, looming question mark.
This past Sunday at Bedford Community Church, we launched a sermon series entitled The Problem with Christianity: Honest Answers to the Toughest Questions. And I kicked it off by discussing the very existence of God. (I know, easing in gently, right?) The purpose of the conversation is simple: in a day and age where we don’t know what to believe, how do begin exploring what to believe?
Well, it begins with the conversation surrounding the existence of God. Is there a God? If so, is there one God or many gods? Do all religions point to the same God? How can we be sure if we are right about God? These are just some of the deep, existential questions of the human experience, and most of us would rather skip over them.
In fact, most of us do.
If we hold any sense of faith, it usually becomes quietly compartmentalized in our minds and in our lives. We bring it out for an hour on Sunday morning, or for a minute when we bow our heads to pray before a meal. But other than that, God remains neatly stored away on our bookshelf, next to our dusty family Bible.
That was me a sixteen. All of my compartmentalizations couldn’t help me as I stood over my Grandpa’s grave and realized that, whether I liked it or not, this is the outcome for all of us. And it got me out of my comfort zone to begin to address, in intentional ways, the search for what I personally believed regarding the reality of God, both in the world and in my own life.
See, when someone dies, we do violence to each other when we say blithely, “Don’t worry, they’re in a better place.” We obviously hope that’s true, but we have no idea if it is. All we really know is that they are no longer in this place and that the loved ones are left bearing the grief of loss. Are they really better off now? How can we be sure?
In the coming weeks, we will be wrestling with the tough questions of the Christian faith. We will address common questions and objections that people raise regarding the Bible and Christianity. And we will try to pause and dwell in the discomfort of mystery and uncertainty. The reason we do this is that we want to know. We don’t want to compartmentalize this all-important area of our souls, this spiritual realm of our being that is so often neglected in favor of the seemingly urgent or important matters of life.
This is why you are reading this today. You desire to know. You wouldn’t have made it this far in this blog if you aren’t looking for an answer. As I pointed out through the sermon on Sunday (you can listen to it at bedfordcommunitychurch.org) we can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. But the Bible makes clear that faith is the only currency in which the God of the Bible transacts. The entirety of Scripture is intended to lead us to faith so that we might encounter and experience God in a profound and transformative way.
In the coming weeks, we will discuss the exclusivity of Christ and the reliability of the Bible. It is my hope that you can join us. And that through it all, you will see what the Bible articulates over and over again: that the one, true God, who created the heavens and the earth, created and knows you. He has done everything necessary to redeem you and call you to Himself.
So there it is.
Faith is yours for the taking.
Hope is here in the midst of the darkness.
God is real. And He has come for you.