As the heartrending tragedy continues to unfold in the Philippines as a result of Typhoon Haiyan, a few people are charged with disaster relief in a way that we seldom hear or think about. They are the counselors who try to help those suffering make some kind of sense of their loss or pain, to provide some type of understanding and hope.
As a pastor, I’ve been in that position too many times, in every conceivable circumstance. The easy funerals are for those who lived long and died peacefully, where loved ones gather to reflect on good times and fond memories. I’ve also been in the tough ones—funerals for the despairing who took their own lives, the teenagers cut down in a car wreck, the young mothers ravaged by cancer, the babies lost at birth.
So anytime we ministers see the tough ones, such as these grieving Filipinos, we cannot help but consider, “What would I say if I was there, conducting their loved one’s funeral? How could I help them navigate through all the emotional pain and sadness?”
One thing I’ve learned well from all these funerals is this: Coming to grips with this type of suffering is far more meaningful when we start our thinking process with our eyes on the bigger picture of life—our ultimate destiny—and then work our way back to the current circumstances.
It’s natural to look at life by starting in our immediate situation—now, this moment in time—and try to figure out why did this particular thing happen, or why did that not happen. But those questions often frustrate us because there is no clear answer. Why did the typhoon hit the Philippines instead of veering on a less destructive course? Why did one person die in a collapsing house when someone next door escaped unscathed? More than 30 years after it happened, I still have no answer as to why my mother suffered and died of cancer in her 40s.
But I do have answers for the bigger, and more important, questions in life.
For example, one of the biggest was posed by a man who was in the worst place of his life, trying to deal with the multiple tragedies of having lost his children and his health in a short space of time. In his despair he was questioning himself and God—that’s not uncommon. In working through this, he eventually asked a core question for all of humanity: “If a man dies, will he live again?” Is there anything more to life than this?
This man was named Job. His story is in the Bible; and he, in fact, answered his own question. “All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes,” he said. “You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands.”
Job found his way to the Big Picture—God does have a work in our lives; we fit into a larger plan of His design; a time is coming when He will call the dead from their graves; and yes, we will live again. This knowledge is truly at the heart and core of understanding why we are here on this earth in the first place.
Now Job didn’t answer the other questions of how and when and where and why this living again will play out. Those answers are found elsewhere in the Bible, and articles right here on the Life, Hope & Truth website clearly explain everything God says about life, death, suffering and hope. You will find that real, tangible comfort begins with understanding the fundamental promise God holds out to us: We will see our loved ones again. It’s part of His disaster relief plan for all humanity!
What would I say to grieving families if I had a funeral tomorrow in the Philippines? Certainly we would try to find some comfort in the loving memories of a life now past. But most of all, the greatest comfort we can have is not found in looking back over the life we once had, but in looking forward to the life God promises we will share together again.
For Life, Hope & Truth, I’m Clyde Kilough.