I have lost track of how often I have stated to people: Rule #1, God is sovereign; Rule #2, don’t forget Rule #1!
I believe the God I serve often allows humanity the opportunity to catch a brief sliver of insight into His mind and perhaps—to an incredibly infinitesimally small degree—also gain some understanding regarding His love and relationship with people.
Because I am a pastor, I have many friends who are in the funeral home business. While it is a business, what they offer is service through a compassionate and loving relationship which will end up impacting every member of your family in one way or another.
Almost without exception, a good funeral home is built around a family who view the services they offer as both a calling and a responsibility they have to the community in which they live. For the vast majority of the population, the whole idea of caring for the dead and preparing bodies for burial is just, well, creepy.
Yet this is where I as a pastor, sees how God wonderfully gifts different people with distinct gifts and abilities which meet the needs of everyone. Those who are in law enforcement, those who serve fire departments, doctors, lawyers, plumbers—these individuals are working in an area in which they have been given a unique set of skills and abilities, which enable them to meet the needs of society.
The men and women who serve in these funeral homes live, work and many times they may even know the people who have died. They provide services for people they have just met, for friends, for neighbors and sometimes even for their own families. Again, I believe it is a calling from God which enables them to serve their communities so faithfully. Yet they also earn their living doing what they do.
The fact that their “services” are also a business often causes stress and difficulties to arise. Those in this business that I have been granted the gift of a relationship find it extremely unpleasant in having to become “insistent” regarding their fee and their ability to be paid.
Because of the nature of the relationship they have with their clientele, and the fact their services are always needed in emotionally sensitive circumstances, there is always extra stress and effort when they must be much more straight-forward regarding the payment for their services.
I have watched the verbal hurdles they face as they attempt to find a way to express the need and necessity for payment while at the same time being sensitive to the raw emotional state these families are experiencing.
While they have a moral responsibility to make sure they receive payment for the services they have rendered (this is true of all businesses—the employees expect those who own their business operate ethically, with integrity and do not do anything which would endanger their livelihood), they also desire to be sensitive to the needs of their clients. Yet as many of us know and understand, there are some people with whom we must become very terse regarding these things.
As I have observed these service providers endure these difficulties, when they finally secure payment, there is never a sense of “having won.” They are never jubilant over avoiding the financial difficulty of providing a service in which they will have to take a financial loss.
Quite the contrary; they are almost bewildered by the necessity of the confrontation. Given the choice, they would have preferred to avoid all confrontation regarding the matter. This kind of encounter seems to take the joy out of their calling to serve. It makes them uncomfortable because they actually know this is part-and-parcel to business, but it is an unpleasant necessity which they make every attempt to avoid.
The Lord God is the great Undertaker. While there are some who desire to teach that everyone will go to Heaven—or no one will—the Bible is very clear: “It is appointed for people to die once—and after this judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). For those of us who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the Bible also says, “The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the LORD’S sight” (Psalm 116:15).
Yet for those who are separate from the Lord, He says, “’For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.’ This is a declaration of the Lord GOD. ‘So repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:32). God does not wish anyone to die apart from Him, this is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God must be true to Himself. He is both holy and just. If God looked at humanity, and chose instead to pat people on their proverbial heads and say in a grandfatherly way, “Oh that’s okay, if you don’t want to pay the price for rebellion, I’ll let it pass!”
One of the main reasons my friends who run funeral homes cannot allow people to simply “not pay” is because they have responsibilities to others; their families, their employees and even to their communities. If they do not follow good business practices, who would then be able to serve their communities in these instances?
If God did not maintain His holiness, His just nature, what would this then mean regarding the sacrifice of His Son? The death of God for mankind demands that the value of the gift—in this case, the gift of salvation—be upheld and be protected.
If God chose not to punish man’s rebellion, the gift of Christ’s death on the Cross would be rendered worthless. No longer would it be the greatest act of love mankind has ever seen. It would be nothing more than another senseless death at the hands of a cruel people.
If God had did not occasionally give humanity some insight into His nature, how would we then understand the necessity of collecting debts? How would we be able to understand grace and mercy?
If no debt were ever collected, would anything have any worth?
Those familiar with American television most likely are also familiar with the television series CSI which appears on the CBS television network. The show premiered in October 2000 and has enjoyed incredible ratings success ever since.
One of the most recognizable aspects of the show is its theme song Who Are You performed by The Who, a powerful rock band which formed in London, England in 1964.
The Who, by any measurable standard, is considered one of the quintessential rock bands of the 20th century. Even using the term quintessential adds to the already loaded measurement of this group. The Greeks acknowledged there were four essences in their observation of humanity: earth, fire, air and water. Yet to describe something as possessing a quintessence acknowledges an experience which is beyond our observable senses. This is a great description of the music of The Who.
The song Who Are You begs the question of comparative meaning of one woman compared to any other. The singer bemoans his inability to ever again find satisfaction in any other love after such an existential experience. The song as a whole depicts the devastation left behind in the wake of such immeasurable love.
I realize there are real people (not that Roger Daltrey isn’t real, but we must recognize the song is a performance for an audience) who longingly wish for an experience of love like Daltrey describes. While the song is directed outwardly (who are you?), it accurately communicates the raw despair we feel as people when we have lost something we did not know we had; when we have not realized the value of the relationship we have been given.
In our culture, our society, living in the world in 2015, the question isn’t really “Who are you?” nearly as much as it is “Who are we?”
Some of you who are perhaps much more introspective may think, “I do not really struggle with this question in my life.” Yet if we really examine our lives and our lifestyle, we do struggle with who we are!
For the vast majority, we define ourselves through comparison with others things or people. While we may be suave enough to not directly reference another person, our self-definition is shaped through our desires and interaction with others. There are many people who define themselves by external things—clothes, cars, houses, jobs and jewelry! Yet do we really grasp the fact we are defining ourselves by the temporary and the transient rather than the eternal and the permanent?
At no moment in time do we as a people gain an immediate, visceral understanding of our situation than when we are sitting at a funeral. At that moment we find ourselves struggling with a deep longing for the eternal; we crave, hunger and long for another moment or a touch from the person who has died. We find ourselves wishing we could have told them again (to reassure ourselves more than the one who has passed) how much we loved them and enjoyed their presence. All of the “things” in this world become meaningless and worthless because we would trade everything for another brief moment or touch.
It is then we wonder who we really are. We are sobered by the fact life is so short. We long for the relationship which at that moment we may have felt we have squandered foolishly. What is it that gives us value and meaning? Is it the material goods of this world? Is it a designer’s name written on our clothes and jewelry?
At that moment when the world has seemingly stopped and we struggle to breathe again, we come to the shocking conclusion it is not reality which gives us meaning but rather relationships! A person who knew us, who understood our idiosyncrasies and our obsessions, they were familiar with our pettiness and shallowness, yet they extended friendship and love to us anyway.
In that same moment, we struggle with the longing for eternity, for a time without time, where what is begun will never end. It is in times exactly like these the philosopher and theologian C. S. Lewis observed, “God often whispers during the times of enjoyment, but He shouts through the times of difficulty.”
I realize there may be some who read this and have no concept of the experiences I am describing; yet there are others who have experienced these very same feelings and they continue to resonate in your life.
What gives humanity value is not what we do (pragmatism) nor what we wear or own (mercantilism, commercialism) and it’s not even what we think (philosophy); what gives us value is who we are.
The Bible says we are “made in the image of God.” Because God has shared some of His characteristics with us, we have value. God then chose to demonstrate His care for us and our intrinsic value by sending His very Son to give each of us the opportunity to live with Him forever, eternally.
The very thing we long for—eternity and unbroken relationships—is available to us because “God loved this world so very much.” And for us to realize our true value we merely have to accept the gift He freely gives!