Friday, January 29, 2010

Comfort One Another With These Words

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we be ever with the Lord.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words. I Thess. 4 16,17

I don’t believe any of us at the Oak Street Bible Shop could remember seeing Glen in a suit. But on this day he entered wearing a rather nice blue suit, white shirt and a gray and black striped necktie. His ‘dress’ navy shoes, as he called them, were nicely shined and his sandy-gray hair was neatly brushed.

He gave us a little wave of the hand and went directly to the little table with the coffee urn and poured a little styrofoam cup of coffee and sat down on the folding chair.

This was unusual behavior for our old friend. Glen may have had his dark days, but if he did he kept to himself until they passed. He was legendary for his even disposition. We all exchanged looks but said nothing until Glen spoke up.

“Excuse my manners”, he said in a low voice. “Or should I say lack of manners?”

“What’s the occasion, Glen” said Joy, trying to bring him out a little, “Are you going to teach at an Episcopalian church or something.?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that” he said dismissively. “I don’t dress up to teach, anyway. Nobody cares what I look like, or at least I hope they don’t.”

Sue was gazing at him intensely. She had never seen him so well dressed. The only thing she would change about his apparel, she once told us, was his “dumb shoes”. “So plain!” she would say.

Glen rose from his chair and joined us in the front room. He had removed his tie and stuffed it into one of his coat pockets.

“I’ve been to a funeral of a friend. He was driving along minding his business, when a pickup crossed the center line and hit him head on. The driver of the truck, local guy, had been drinking. He’ll be ok, but my friend is dead.”

“I guess you’ll really miss him?” inquired Sue, sympathetically.

“Oh sure,” Glen said, with resignation. “But that is not what bothers me right now. I overheard something that really has me feeling sad and upset at the same time. My friend’s youngest child is a seven year old boy. You can imagine the shock he is experiencing. Before the service started, when this little boy was brought in, he said, “Why did my Daddy have to die?”

One of the older family members, maybe an uncle or something, comes over to the boy and says “God took him to be with Him”.

Gary reacted with disgust, but said nothing. “Oh I wish people wouldn’t say things like that!” said Joy.

Glen showed his anger and sorrow as he went on. “The poor kid hears this and says “I hate God”. “How can a seven year old handle something like that! God took him!”

Sue broke her silence, “People think they are helping and they only make things worse. It’s better to say nothing than to make up stories like that.”

Glen looked towards Sue with appreciation in his eyes. “You’re absolutely right, Sue, better to say nothing.”

Joy was obviously moved by this story “How can you ever straighten this out? The little boy sees his father lying there, then someone says “God took him.” That’s what he will always remember.”

Gary added.”I’ve heard people say things like ‘God was lonely and he wanted such a person to be with him, to cheer him up. Stuff like that.”

“Yeah,” said Glen, “I guess we’ve all heard ‘em. Awful isn’t it?”

“I took a course in child psychology at Xavier” said Gary. “The teacher explained that when you have something deep to discuss with a child, start with the most simple and direct explanation. Children need something concrete to understand. Then you can add the complicated stuff later on.”

“”Sounds like a good way to teach the Bible too.” said Glen.

“Why did you take a course in child psychology? asked Joy.

“I figure I’ll have children some day and I want to be prepared” said Gary.

“So what is the simple, direct thing we should say to children?” Joy inquired.. “I know I’m putting my foot into it, but what do you say to a child to explain death. We always say a person is asleep.”

“I know of a child who was told that when her friend died, said Sue. This poor kid was afraid to go to sleep. She was afraid they would bury her, too.”

“I’ve never heard of that!” said Joy disdainfully.

“It’s true though”.

Gary changed directions “I haven’t heard anyone say “What is the Bible way to explain death?”

“Oh, now you’ve done it,” groaned Joy. “We’re in for it now!”

Glen realized this was directed at him.

“ I like Gary’s idea!” He said with enthusiasm.

“My teacher’s, actually”, added Gary.

“Well, it’s a good one. Why can’t you just say a person is dead because a truck hit his car. Then tell them that someday they will see him again in the resurrection?”

“A child doesn’t understand the resurrection, though”. Said Joy.

“Well, said Glen, “I don’t understand it either, but I know it is true. I can tell you this, I wish someone had answered my questions when I was little, by reading to me from the Bible. Even if I didn’t understand it. It shows a child that there is an answer and it is in the Bible. Kids know, deep down when you are lying to them. Or they will figure it out soon enough.”

“Like Santa Clause” quipped Gary.

“Good point” said Glen, “kids start expecting people to lie to them, if they always have. Why can’t we give them straight Bible truth?”

Joy’s question was “But even good Christian people, who try to tell it like it is. disagree. How can anyone say they have the absolute truth about life after death? You and I don’t agree”.

Gen hesitated. He did not want to insult Joy, but he did want to tell her he thought she was wrong. “I think, that in your case, Joy, you know what the Bible says, I know you do. But you go beyond what the Bible says. We all have a background we come from that makes us believe stuff that isn’t in the Bible. We don’t dis-believe the Bible, but we add to it. I say “we” because I have to fight it in myself too. Please don’t take it the wrong way, but your Catholic church is full of Babylonian religion.”

Joy broke in “What do you mean ‘my’ Catholic church? I’m a Baptist now and you know it.”

“Yes Joy, but some of that old religion still clings to you, like it or not.”

“And what is it you are saying clings to me, Glen?”

“Oh, the world religion, what everybody believes but doesn’t really look into it. It says we are all naturally immortal. It says we don’t die, just the body, like that’s no big deal. Satan said it in Eden, “Thou shalt not surely die.”

Joy had heard Glen say this all before.

He could see her face had that stubborn expression, but he continued. “When we try to comfort those who have lost some one through death, why can’t we use words that the Bible tells us to use. Where in the Bible does it say that the dead are in a better place? never says it. When Paul wanted to give comfort in this matter, and he did it at several times, it was always the hope that our dead would be resurrected. The Bible says “hope”, because it was a future event. It’s a sure thing, but it just hasn’t happened yet. If our dead are already in heaven, why does the Bible say “hope”? We have all heard this immortality thing so long we have accepted it as true. We’ve allowed ourselves to be taken in by these Thomas Edison theologians!”

Sue had so much admiration for Glen, but sometimes his meaning eluded her. “Glen, what do you mean Thomas Edison theologians?” she asked.

“Oh, I just mean guys that are always inventing things.

Look, I have to get home, I want to get out of this suit.”

Sue took two step towards him. She gently stroked the fabric of his lapel. “This suit really looks nice on you” she said.

“Thank you” he said. “But it’ll look better hanging in the closet.”

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