On seeing a friend for the last time (a 5 minute theology of death)

God is good.
All the time.

If you’re a Christian, especially an evangelical, you’ve likely heard this saying many times. God is good, but every day this truth is hard pressed against the bitter realities of life.

Only in a world as discordant as ours can you cry such disparate tears within a week’s time. Last week I stood on the beach at dusk, silent tears filling my eyes as I watched my son take in the beach in for the first time – the sound, the texture, the unexpected lick of a cool wave. He was full with delight and in his face I saw what could only have been a caught reflection of God’s own glory, a quiet seam open and closed in the span of few breaths.

A week later (today), I cried outside a hospital room after seeing a friend for what is likely the last time. I held her hand and watched her face, still till interrupted by a surprised grimace of pain. She was a nearly empty shell – open and on its side, contents spilling out till gone and washed out. She did not remember me. She had forgotten laughing at pictures of Wade and how she had named him “her boy.”

I have been in this place before – having three friends die, losing both my grandmas and aunts within just a few years time. If I stand in this place a hundred more times it will feel no less sharp or unjust. And I know that the worst days of loss are still ahead of me.

God is good. But equally true is that we live in a staggeringly broken world. We (Christians included), make a foggy theology for ourselves at times . i.e. “Everything happens for a reason.” Indeed. But the reason may only be that cells mutated, the immune system failed to destroy broken cells, and cancer invaded and spread brokenness further to areas that were once healthy.

I will save a discussion of God’s active and permissive wills for another day. For now I won’t try to use my own words as a dam against the spill of my shell-friend, or use a deficient theology of God’s goodness as a broom to sweep away the ugly, contorted face of suffering.

Both things are true. God is good and we inhabit what can be a insufferable between-space. It is not God’s desire for life to end in a cold, pale hospital room or for anyone to watch their loved one shrink up from life in a years’ long journey from hell. But this is the route to our true life, a whole body and redeemed creation. I believe it, I choose it, and I hope in it, as does my dying friend. But oh, how our hearts groan and the pain is great. (Romans 8:22)

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