Life is full of losses. Loved ones fall sick and die. Relationships wither and disappear. Skills and abilities erode. Time slips away, and with it go dreams unfulfilled, sometimes even before we have fully articulated them. Scripture tells us that “it is appointed for mortals to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). Whatever role death plays biologically, as children of God we know that it is the great enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26) that separates us from God and from all that we love. The losses that accumulate along the way are like heralds of death. They remind us that even those we love sometimes ignore us or harm us, and we are often diminished by our own bad acts. (On the other hand, we are often the undeserving beneficiaries of the wise and good acts of others, AKA “grace”.)
The church at its best can be a bulwark against the pain of loss. When we are sick or grieving, our brothers and sisters in Christ bathe us in prayer. When we are discouraged they can pump us up and give us strength to continue. However sometimes the church itself becomes the scene of loss or the vehicle that carries it. Disagreements divide us. Beloved sisters and brothers separate from the Body, sometimes over strongly felt faith convictions, sometimes over mundane quarrels, and sometimes simply because they are seeking something they feel they are not finding in our fellowship.
Those losses can strike at the core of our being, because they unravel the fabric of that fellowship which is, of course, earthly and time conditioned, but at the same time claims to be an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, and therefore, we would like to believe, resistant to the decay and loss that characterize “the world.” How we yearn for the church to be a bulwark against loss! But the church as we have it now is a mixture of the hopes and fears and conflicts of this world and the values of a redeemed creation where “nothing accursed will be found … any more” and the redeemed will reign with Christ “forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:3, 5)
Scripture speaks to these troubling feelings of ours. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us of the radically time conditioned nature of existence in this world. “Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). The prophet Jeremiah spoke God’s counsel to Israelites living in exile in Babylon in a time of national catastrophe, when they were grieving the loss of their national sovereignty and doubting God’s call upon their nation. Rather than giving up hope and living in perpetual grief for their loss, they should “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…, and pray to God on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). In the spirit of God’s counsel to the exiles, perhaps we are called to embrace our losses and turn them into occasions for faith and witness.
Finally, we are reminded that neither the best nor the worst of this sin-marred existence is God’s ultimate destiny for us. Like Abraham and Sarah of old, we seek “the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10), and we know that the resurrected Christ is “the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20). In Christ we glimpse by faith the transcending of loss and the vanquishing of death.
—Dr. David L. Wheeler