As many of you know, for the past two weeks my family has been trying to make sense of the untimely death of my cousin. It has been a difficult two weeks to say the least. My uncle, aunt, and their son have been thrown into deep sorrow and confusion as they’ve tried to make sense of it all. The problem is that no matter how much you try to make sense of the situation’it simply doesn’t make sense.
On Monday of this past week we all gathered for her funeral and I witnessed firsthand the devastation and agonizing grief that was present in the room and in the hearts of those who loved her so much. It was an ‘untimely’ death. An ‘untimely’ death catches us off guard, we can’t anticipate it, we aren’t prepared for it, and as a result we feel like we have been hit by a truck when they occur.’ The American Heritage Dictionary defines, ‘untimely,’ as 1. occurring or done at an inappropriate time; inopportune. 2. occurring too soon; premature: an untimely death. I have spoken at the funerals of hundreds of people over the course of the past 20 years. In a way, all of those families felt like the death of their loved one was ‘untimely.’ Anytime you love someone, and enjoy their company, you believe that their death occurred too soon, that it was premature. It doesn’t matter if they were 100 years old; you still would like to have more time with them.’ I don’t want to minimize the grief that any of us has experienced when we’ve lost a loved one, but I want to focus our study this morning on a particular kind of loss. Let me give you an example other than the example of my cousin.
Two weeks ago Sara was a promising Senior at Heritage Hall High School. She was brilliant, had a bright future, and could have done anything she set her mind to do in life. She went to bed on Sunday night so that she would be rested for school on Monday morning. Her mother woke her up on Monday morning, went to fix breakfast, and when Sara didn’t come to the breakfast table, her mother went to check on her. Sara was laying on the floor in her room. She had died. Just like that, in an instant, her life was over. Now her family is forced to deal with the sudden loss of their daughter. They were preparing for her graduation, they were looking forward to her going to college, getting married one day, and beginning a family. The furthest thing from their mind was planning her funeral. That is an untimely death.
We have many families here at Britton Christian Church who have experienced the untimely death of a loved one. Some of you have had a family member who have been overwhelmed with life and decided to end their own life. Others have suffered great loss because someone you love died of a drug overdose or died suddenly in a tragic accident. I have friends who have lost babies or children because of a health problem or tragic accident. All of these experiences knock us back on our heels and we don’t know how to deal with them.
When I got back home on Monday night I tried to lay all of my thoughts aside and focus on getting my studies done so that we could get back to our study of Revelation for today. As the week went on, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t escape the experience that I had just gone through, but even more than that, I thought about all of you here today who have experienced the untimely death of someone you love.
I want us to spend our time this morning taking a look at God’s Word so that we can see what we can learn about how to deal with these great losses. As I mentioned earlier, some of you have already experienced this kind of loss with someone you love. There are others here this morning that will experience this kind of loss in the future. I want us to be able to have some biblical counsel as to how to deal with these kinds of losses.
I believe that our reactions as people to these experiences are very similar. We are overwhelmed with sorrow. Our minds are flooded with questions. We wonder how we are going to go on with our own life. We can even blame ourselves as we ask ourselves, ‘What could I have done? Why didn’t I notice that something was wrong?’‘ In my experience with my own family and many other families throughout the years I believe that these are natural responses, but they are not the best responses to our experience. Let’s take a look at some stories from God’s Word about those who lost loved ones in an untimely manner.
King David is known as Israel’s greatest king, but what many people don’t realize is that David suffered the untimely death of some of his children. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed, he took Bathsheba into his home and she became his wife. Bathsheba found out that she was going to have a child, David’s child. What David did was wrong. Nathan the prophet came to him and told David that the child would die. In 2 Samuel 12 we read,
16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.” 19 David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.” 20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. 21 His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” 22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.” 23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:16-23 NIV)
David stayed by the boy’s side throughout the seven days of his sickness and he pled with God. He cried. He wouldn’t sleep. He wouldn’t eat. He prayed. He pleaded with God. When the baby died David got up, took a shower, ate breakfast, and his servants thought that he had lost his mind. David responded to their questions by saying,
22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.” 23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:22-23 NIV)
Now, I’m sure that wasn’t the end of David’s grief, but he sure had a right focus on his son’s death. He wasn’t going to be able to bring the boy back to life, but David was looking forward to the day when he would see his son again.
What’s really interesting is that in the very next chapter of 2 Samuel we meet some more of David’s children, born to different wives. The story in 2 Samuel 13 is tragic. David’s son, Amnon, raped his sister, Tamar. Tamar’s other brother, Absalom, found out about it and was furious. He waited for his father to do something about it, but David didn’t do anything. He was furious about what Amnon had done, but he didn’t do anything.
After two years of waiting, two years of allowing the anger and hatred to simmer and grow within himself, Absalom killed his brother. When David found out that Absalom had killed Amnon he was broken. He tore his clothes and fell to the ground full of sorrow. Absalom fled to his maternal grandfather’s house and Scripture tells us, ‘King David mourned for his son every day.’ (2 Samuel 13:37 NIV)
In 2 Samuel 14:1 we read, ‘‘1Joab son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart longed for Absalom. (2 Samuel 14:1 NIV) David longed for Absalom, but David didn’t do anything to try and reach Absalom. The bitterness continued to grow inside of Absalom to the point where he decided to dethrone his father and kill him.’ Through some pretty slick manipulation and maneuvering Absalom gained a lot of support from the people. So much support that David had to flee Jerusalem for his life.
David’s commanders took over. The great warrior, David, was reduced to having to let his commanders make the decisions. They told David about their plan and David said,
4 The king answered, “I will do whatever seems best to you.” So the king stood beside the gate while all the men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands. 5The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders. (2 Samuel 18:4-5 NIV)
Isn’t that amazing? With all that Absalom had done to destroy David, he was still Absalom’s dad, he still loved his son.
David’s men went after Absalom and the boy was eventually killed by Joab, David’s commander and confidant. David didn’t know his son was dead’He was still in Mahanaim, the place he went to flee from his son.’ While David was in Mahanaim, he kept watch, hoping for word from one of his men. In 2 Samuel 18:24-33 we read,
24‘While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. 25 The watchman called out to the king and reported it. The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.” And the man came closer and closer. 26 Then the watchman saw another man running, and he called down to the gatekeeper, “Look, another man running alone!” The king said, “He must be bringing good news, too.” 27 The watchman said, “It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.” “He’s a good man,” the king said. “He comes with good news.” 28‘Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, “All is well!” He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up the men who lifted their hands against my lord the king.” 29 The king asked, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” Ahimaaz answered, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.” 30 The king said, “Stand aside and wait here.” So he stepped aside and stood there. 31‘Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The LORD has delivered you today from all who rose up against you.” 32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.” 33The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you– O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:24-33 NIV)
Did you hear that? Did you hear the longing for good news? David anticipates the good news as he hears that runners are coming to speak to him. He says, ‘He must have good news!’ He hears about a second runner and he says, ‘He must be bringing good news, too.’ When the Cushite arrives and begins to talk, David says, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’‘ When David finds out the bad news he falls to pieces.’ That wasn’t the end of David’s grieving. In 2 Samuel 19 we find David still grieving.’ In 2 Samuel 19:4 we read,
4 The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 19:4 NIV)
That is the kind of lingering sorrow that you and I often feel and encounter when untimely deaths occur in our family or in the families of our friends. We are overwhelmed with sorrow. We feel wrung out. We feel like David and his men did when they returned to Ziklag and found that the enemy had burned down their town, taken their wives and children, and the men didn’t know if their loved ones were alive or dead. We read,
3 When David and his men came to Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive.’ 4 So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. (1 Samuel 30:3-4 NIV) ‘
Do you know the feeling? I know many of you do. What do you do in situations like this? Hire a private investigator to get to the bottom of things? Beat yourself up over what you should have or could have done? Demand that God give you answers as to why your loved one died?’ These are all normal reactions, but they are not beneficial reactions. You may wonder why I believe this and that is a fair question. I can tell you that I believe this because of my study of God’s Word.
When we go through something horrible like the unexpected tragic death, an untimely death, of someone we love we have so many questions. We want to know ‘Why?” We want to know what happened, we rack our brains trying to figure out what we could have done to have stopped it, but we can’t come up with any answers. When we lose a child because of suicide, a drug overdose, or some tragic accident we need lots of things. We need the comfort of Almighty God, we need to know that He has promised to never leave us or forsake us, and we need friends to be with us during our time of sorrow. Let me tell you the one thing that we don’t need: we don’t need to search for answers, to try and figure out the ‘why’ of what happened. We may think that answers would comfort us, but let me assure you, they wouldn’t’they would only lead to more questions.
Job dealt with disaster in his family. He lost it all. Job and his wife had seven sons and three daughters. They were all at the oldest boy’s house one day when a violent wind came down and collapsed the house’all of Job’s kids died. That was the greatest loss in Job’s life, but it wasn’t the only one. He also lost his livelihood and his employees.
The more Job thought about it the more questions came to his mind. Job thought that if He could only find a hearing with God that all of his questions could be answered and his pain would subside. Job said, ‘I’ve got some questions for God. If God would just show up so that I could ask Him some questions.’‘ God did show up, but not to be questioned. He told Job, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the creation? Were you there when I stretched out the sea? Were you there when I taught the stork to lay her eggs in the sand or when I gave wisdom to the heart?’ Job got the point. Job was rocked back on his heels. He had never considered the things that God was sharing with him.’
1Then Job replied to the LORD: 2“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6 NIV)
Job says, ‘Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.’‘ We can understand not understanding, but things ‘too wonderful?” What’s that all about? What Job experienced in his life and what many of us have experienced has not been wonderful, it has been painful.’ The Hebrew word that is translated ‘wonderful’ is the word, ‘al’P” (pala’) and it can mean ‘marvelous,’ but it can also mean, ‘to be beyond one’s power,’ or ‘to be difficult to understand.’ Job was trying to find answers to things beyond his ability to understand. If God would have explained everything to Job he still would not have understood.’ God’s response to Job was not to put him in his place, but to encourage Job to trust Him. God wouldn’t give Job answers, but He did give him an invitation to trust Him. We are not going to get answers, but this morning we have an opportunity to trust God. I pray that we will trust Him.
There are painful, heartbreaking experiences in life that many of us have had to endure and there are painful times that many of us will have to endure in the years to come, but it is so important for all of us to know that we do not have to endure them alone. We can trust the Lord to lead us through every experience in life. The same David who felt such sorrow at the death of his children is the same David who wrote in Psalm 34:18.
18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 NIV)
When we go through these horrible experiences in life we must know, it is imperative that we know that the Lord has not removed Himself from us’He is closer than He has ever been. He draws close to walk us through the most painful experiences in life. So many people in our day walk through life thinking they’ve got it all together, that they can handle anything in life because they are strong or they have powerful friends, or they have resources to get them out of any mess they might find themselves in, but we know better. We might have thought that at one time, but when we were brought to our knees with a sorrow that we could have never even imagined, we knew at that moment just how powerless we truly are. We can’t cause our heart to beat one time much less sustain it over a lifetime. The breath we just drew into our lungs is a gift from Almighty God. We are powerless. The good news is that God is still God and He alone is God. He knits babies together in their mother’s womb and He sustains each moment of our life. When our lives are rocky and we feel like they are unraveling at the seams it is God’s will that we turn to Him to find His strength.
It is imperative that we use every ounce of energy to seek the Lord because He alone can provide what each of us so desperately needs. We need comfort, we need peace, and we need the compassion of the Father so that we might make it through this sorrow. We don’t need answers. Paul wrote to the people of Corinth during their time of need.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)
God knows that we have had our hearts broken. He knows that we feel like we can’t go on. He knows that our lives are coming apart at the seams and He wants us to turn to Him so that He can carry us through the storm.
When we are going through such a time we can’t see beyond today. We feel like our lives are over, that they will never be the same again. You are right. They will never be the same again, but God has given us life and we must live this life in His power, in His strength, with assurance that He is not finished with us yet.
I had a conversation this past week with my oldest son Dan about my cousin’s death. Dan was trying to make sense of it all when I said, ‘Dan, don’t try to answer questions. Leave the questions alone.’ You will not change reality, but you can adjust. You must say to yourself, ‘Now that this happened what will I do, how do I need to adjust.” I told Dan that we have to be like water. When someone drops a boulder into a stream the water doesn’t stop flowing, it changes its course, it adjusts to what has happened. That is what we must do. We have to adjust.
Let me close with a story of some dear friends of mine who go to church here at Britton Christian Church who have adjusted to life, to the heartache they’ve experienced in life. In 1987, Mike and Lisa Curtis were 22 and 23 years old when they were expecting their first child. They were so excited, just as all of us are excited when we find out that we are going to have a baby. When their son Kyle was born there were problems. A preacher told them that if they would have faith their son would live. Lisa was a new Christian at that time and she took the preacher at his word. Kyle died. When he was only three days old Kyle died. Mike and Lisa were shattered to say the least. Where was the preacher when Kyle died? He disappeared. He was nowhere to be found. He didn’t hold Mike and Lisa. He didn’t pray with them. He was nowhere to be found. Mike and Lisa were left to deal with their pain and Lisa became angry. Where was God? Where was the preacher? Why did this happen?
Mike and Lisa moved to Cherokee, Oklahoma shortly after Kyle died and another preacher helped them tremendously. He didn’t offer easy answers he just cried with them and keep nudging them towards the Lord. Lisa and Mike found strength in Psalm 24:1-2.
1The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2 for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. (Psalm 24:1-2 NIV)
Lisa and Mike realized that Kyle was never theirs’He belonged to the Lord. That gave Mike and Lisa comfort.
Nine years later, in 1996, Lisa got a phone call that her brother had committed suicide. He left a wife, an 18 month old son, and his wife was 3 months pregnant with their second child. Why? Why do these things happen? We don’t know. There is no way to know. We are finite creatures trying to figure out things that are beyond our understanding, things that don’t make any sense to us. We can’t figure them out, but we can trust God.
Mike and Lisa have trusted God and the Lord has used the heartache and sorrow of their lives to touch the lives of many, many people in our church and in our city. How many of you have been to one of Lisa’s Grief Share classes? When one of their friends goes through something tragic they are the first ones to show up on the scene. Why? Because they know the depth of sorrow that people feel and they know how desperately those who are hurting need to know the comfort that only the Lord can bring.
There may be some of you who are here this morning who are still wrestling with questions that you’ve had for years since you lost your loved one in an untimely way. I want to urge you to lay those questions at the feet of the Father this morning. Trust Him. You can trust Him. He will lead you through the storm and restore your soul. There are others here this morning that will experience one or more of these untimely deaths in the future. I hope and pray that the Lord will use this lesson as a map so that you can know what to do if that situation ever arises in your life.
Last of all, we need the assurance that this life is not all there is. I don’t know what happened in my cousin’s life that caused her to feel so overwhelmed with life, but I know that as a high school student she accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of her life. On Monday night when she felt so overwhelmed with life she probably felt distant from the Lord, but He was not distant from her. You and I need to know that my friends. You may find yourself in a situation in life where you feel overwhelmed with life. There are so many things that can cause this, but instead of acting in your despair you can turn to the Lord and know that a day is coming when there will be no more sorrow, suffering, or pain. What a great comfort that is to those of us who live in this broken world. Won’t you trust Him this morning? Trust Him with your sorrow, your problems, and your heartache?
Britton Christian Church