Last week my mother-in-law, Mrs. Virginia Morrell, died in Eugene, Oregon. The funeral was last Friday in Eureka, California and I had the privilege of conducting the memorial service.
Over the years I have heard many jokes about mothers-in-law, but none of those jokes applied to my mother-in-law. She was a wonderful person, a good Christian woman, and the perfect mother and mother-in-law. In her simplicity, she exuded grace.
Virginia had the kind of personality that attracted the love and admiration of all people who knew her. Any stranger who met her would be a stranger no more. People loved her and were attracted to her. Her death brings to mind the words of the Psalmist: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
The words of the Psalmist are filled with wonder and mystery. Why is the death of God’s people precious to God?
The word “precious” demonstrates what God’s attitude is toward the death of his children. God delights in the lives of all his people. The beginning of a believer’s life is marked by celebration (Luke 15:10) and so is its end.
The words of the Psalmist also shed a bright light on what will happen after a believer leaves this life. The life of a believer here on earth is marked by sorrows and disappointments, temptations and sin. The death of a person ends all of that, but is death the end of everything?
For a believer, death marks the beginning of something new. While believers are here on earth, they are exposed to the problems of everyday life, but in death, God gathers them into the safety of his eternal presence.
Since the death of a believer is precious to God, then death cannot be the end of all things, otherwise, how could such a death be precious to God? For those who belong to God, death is not an endless night, but the entrance into the fullness of life promised by Christ. Some people die having really lived, while others continue to live in spite of the fact that they have died. As Sir Edwin Arnold said: “The end of birth is death; the end of death is birth.”
Joy and sorrow, life and death, are integral components to our experience as human beings. The pain of death belongs to those who are left behind. Those who have died are free from their pain and suffering for God himself “shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4).
Virginia’s death reminds me of what John Bunyan wrote in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Writing about the end of Pilgrim’s journey, Bunyan put these words in Pilgrim’s mouth:
“My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder.” When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the riverside, into which as he went he said: “Death, where is thy sting?” And as he went down deeper, he said: “Grave, where is thy victory?” So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
At the occasion of his mother’s death, my brother-in-law, Rolla Anderson, wrote the following poem, which was read at the memorial service:
Even tho we’re often told
That pain is part of life.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand
Why we must bear such strife.
Why sorrow comes as burning coals
Upon our hearts to sear.
To leave, as ash, just memories
Of those we held so dear.
Why is our lot, to shed these tears?
To feel the grief so strong
Until in time, it slowly fades
But never to be gone.
For this world is a world of woe
Praise God, we’re not alone
For He will help us bear it all
Until He takes us home.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints (Psalm 116:15).
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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