A year ago Sunday, my nephew Brandon died in a car accident. He was 29.
There have been countless tears over the past year. A flood of racking sobs after hearing the news. Angry wails at the senseless, preventable tragedy of an accident caused by drinking and speeding. Trickles scattered across the months. A quiet grief while thinking of him or stumbling across old pictures. A choked silence during Thanksgiving grace. Another flood of sobs at his grave on Christmas day before going to the family gathering he always attended. And many tears from others, from those who loved him and the friend who died with him.
There have been surprises. I didn’t know Brandon’s friend Chris, but I knew his family. They were friends and neighbors and schoolmates from my childhood, full of grace. A few months ago, I discovered that at some point during his schooling, I’d met Chris, too. A small note within a box of old papers had his full name on it. Nothing else. I don’t know whether it was from my time substitute teaching or my visits to the school as a reporter, but somehow, long ago, I met a boy who grew to be a dear friend of my nephew.
There have been comfort, healing, and hope. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, New Living Translation). Jesus wept over his friend Lazarus, but He also raised him from the dead; more importantly, He made it possible for all of us to join Him for eternity.
Many speak in our society about their loved ones becoming their guardian angels and watching over them, but the Bible doesn’t teach this; God gave us a better hope than that. We miss our loved ones and want them near, but they’re better off in a place of no more tears or pain than here among us trying to prevent our tears. I’m glad that God chose instead to do that job Himself – and to give our loved ones the infinite joy and peace of Heaven.
When we see a rainbow or a butterfly or a beautiful sky that moves us, we are indeed seeing a gift from Heaven meant to comfort us and bring us joy, but these are from God Himself and should remind us of His goodness, love, and majesty. “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow,” James 1:17 (NLT) tells us. Those gifts include the loved ones He gives us in this life and the promise of a perfect, painless, infinitely joyful life to come.
Grief is not simple and certainly doesn’t progress conveniently through tidy stages; it erupts, subsides, and erupts again. It varies in mood, tone, expression, and intensity. It’s not the same for everyone, and everyone deals with it differently. Sometimes, the way that some soothe or express their own grief pricks fresh the grief of others.
At our church Sunday, our pastor started a new sermon series on the book of Esther, the only book of the Bible that doesn’t actually mention God. Yet through it all, God is at work, even when no one sees Him doing so.
That’s a good reminder for closing out one year and starting another.
None of us know how long we have on Earth, but all of us face choices about how to spend that time and what to believe comes afterward. Believing something no more makes it true than disbelieving makes it false, though, so each must look at the world and the information about it and embrace the explanation that makes the most sense.
I believe in Christ not because I hope His claims are true but because my studies and reasoning convince me they are. I still have questions, but I also have enough answers to sustain my faith. I trust God because He has proven Himself trustworthy, even though I don’t always understand.
Motivated by a painful memory of a beloved nephew’s death, I encourage anyone reading this to seek the answers to their questions and decide today what they believe. Read the Bible. Visit a church. Call a pastor and meet with your questions. Or explore some of the resources online, like this series.
I look forward in faith to a reunion with my nephew and to asking Chris about that note. It would be wonderful to see you there.