Stronger Than Death
Trusting the God who took our place
By Sylvia Renz
The door slammed shut with cruel finality. I could still see the light-colored pine coffin through the rear window of the hearse, but then the funeral director started the engine, and the vehicle rolled away. Gone! My child was gone!
My glasses misted up from the hot tears. It hurt so much—as if I had been chopped in half. Even though I had known for months that this moment would come; even though I had nodded when the funeral director had asked, “May I close the coffin now?”; even though my mind had long ago agreed when Sonja prayed, “Lord, let me die, I cannot fight anymore”; even though I was relieved that she no longer needed to suffer pain and never again had to fear another test result—my heart cried, “No! It’s so unfair! She is still so young! I wish I could have died in her place!”
Probably every mother and every father would wish this. When David learned that his rebellious and murderous son was dead, David cried for hours. “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!’ ” (2 Sam. 18:33, NIV).
But our substitutionary death cannot solve the problem. Only the Son of God, the Creator, had the power to defeat death by His own death. This is a mystery that we probably cannot comprehend until eternity. We cannot even begin to imagine how God the Father felt when Jesus wept, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt. 26:39, NIV). As He hung there naked, nailed between heaven and earth, ridiculed by those whom He wanted to save, misunderstood by His disciples, betrayed by His friends, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, NIV). What did God’s loving heart feel at that moment?
"Although I know that Sonja is not here anymore, love proves me wrong. God saved all of her in the immense data storage place Scripture calls the 'Lamb's book of life'."
Jesus wanted to die this cruel death, though He feared being totally separated from His Father, even if only for a short time. He took the pain of separation on Himself to save us from it. The Godhead has suffered and is suffering for thousands of years because their love has been rejected and trampled upon. This is really the second death: the complete absence of God’s love and, in consequence, total annihilation—the end, fin, das Ende. No more chances, no more mercy—because the person, loved by God, rejected this love and ultimately didn’t want it any other way.
Death and the Other Death
What we call death is really the younger sister of this final horror. She is as ugly and as scary as her older sister, though, because she takes our loved ones hostage to a “land” from which there is no return, at least not during our time on earth. And yet our experience of death on this planet is mixed with a portion of grace. Anyone who has looked at the face of a loved one twisted in pain, heard the agonizing groans, and seen the fear-widened eyes of the dying will know that death can be a mercy in disguise. Peace spreads over the pain-racked features, chapped lips become silent, and eyes turn quiet and still. Those who receive the gift of sharing these final moments, who can consciously say farewell and call out to their loved one, “You can let go, you will not fall—you are in His arms! Your life is well guarded in God’s hands”—to those a hope is given that carries them through the tunnel of grief to a place of hope and confidence.
As we washed our Sonja and dressed her in her favorite blouse and jeans, as we combed her hair and cared for her needs one last time, we felt a sense of reassurance; we felt peace, in spite of pain and grief.
She lay there like Snow White, as if she had just lain down for a little nap, and we understood that this death couldn’t stop our love. Love is affected by other, more subtle “killers”: indifference, disrespect, hurt, unfaithfulness, lack of time, or even forgetting a daily “Yes, I want to love you. You are special to me. You are one of God’s great thoughts, and I would like to discover you anew again and again; you are precious to me; how wonderful that you are here!”
Although I know that Sonja is not here anymore, love proves me wrong. God saved all of her in the immense data storage place Scripture calls the “Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 13:8, NIV): her infectious laughter, her sparkling eyes that even shortly before her death could still shine, her delicate hands that danced over the piano keys, or her sometimes slapstick humor (“How many are already buried in the family grave? Ten people? Cool! Sounds like real fellowship—there’s going to be some pushing and shoving at the resurrection!”).
No, we have not “lost” our daughter. She is safe in her present destination, her record preserved in the safest place in this cosmos: the heart of God. And His love is stronger than death. One day our dead will come to life again, transformed and reunited, fit for a new world without pain, without fear, without goodbyes.
That comforts me—even on the saddest of days.
Sylvia Renz works for the German Voice of Prophecy in Alsbach-Hähnlein, Germany. She is an accomplished author and has published numerous books for children and adults. Sylvia, her husband Werner, and their two surviving children, Jane and Manuel, said goodbye to their daughter and sister Sonja on August 16, 2010.