Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Art imitates life (and death still sucks)

This past couple weeks, a number of players on my server have approached me about the death of one of the members of the Alliance. Word has apparently leaked out that the priest is really a priest. I have learned two important things these past few days. First, it is much easier to talk about the questions such a death provokes than to respond to as many as 8 or 10 pst’s at the same time (the challenge is remembering where in the conversation one is with each individual). The second important lesson I have learned is just how poorly we Christians have conveyed the love of God and of the hope that His Gospel gives us.

To back up a minute for those not in the game on Ysondre (our server world in World of Warcraft), one of the players died tragically near the beginning of November (I will refrain from publishing names and handles since I have asked no one for permission to post their stories and questions). One minute, this noble member of the Alliance (as opposed to those hoi polloi who choose to be members of the Horde) was preparing to run an instance. The next minute, he was dead. He was discovered by his wife, who was alerted that something might be wrong by a phone call from a friend in real life. One minute, life was good; the next, it was taken away. What made the loss even more tragic was the relative youth of the one who had died. He was of an age where one should not worry about heart failures. But, from the moment that people began to hear of his death, several questions have popped up, many of which were asked repeatedly.

How can you Christians claim that God is good when He allows things like this to happen? Where is God when someone as young as this has a bad heart? If God is omnipotent and knew this was going to happen, why did He not stop it? Have his wife be awake when he first had the heart attack? Have the doctor detect it last month?

For those who have never encountered the living, redeeming God, such questions are all important. And how we answer them is often the most important testimony that we can give about our faith. Why did God allow this to happen if He is really good? Truthfully, I am not sure. Just because I am a Christian and just because I am a priest does not mean I necessarily have all the answers. Well, I have the answer, but I do not always know what is going on in God’s plan. Heck, I do not have all the questions, let alone the answers. What I can assure them is that no actions of ours can ever thwart His purposes. No matter what we choose, He will always overcome them, redeem them, if we allow Him. And because He allows us the freedom to choose, He gives us the ability to learn. Sometimes we learn by positive reinforcement, and sometimes we learn by negative reinforcement.

So his death was punishment for us? No. Absolutely not. God became human and died on the cross so that we would not die forever. He came because He loved us. Like the perfect Father that He is, He did not want to see us suffer. When He walked the earth, He cried at our deaths. He mourned for Lazarus. He felt Jairus’ pain. This, death, was not what He intended. But He gave us the freedom to choose to accept Him or reject Him. And we so often chose poorly. And like the kids who keep reaching for the electrical socket or the hot pan who will never be satisfied with mom or dad’s “Don’t touch that,” we rejected Him. We needed to learn about His love the hard way.

So, God killed him because He loved him? No. God allowed events to proceed naturally. I don’t know what led to his heart condition. Maybe it was diet; maybe it was congenital; maybe it was genetic; maybe there was something in the environment. God only knows. But only God can overcome such a seemingly pointless death. Only God can truly redeem all things for His glory.

So how can this ever be redeemed? The fact that so many are asking questions is a start. Often, the conversations that I have with people in the game are superficial. As they get to know me, the conversations sometimes get deeper. But, for a brief time in November, a group of people who are used to rezzing at the spirit healer when they die in the game have been forced to confront the fear that plagues humanity. What happens when we die? Is this all that there is? There is no spirit healer hanging around a cemetery for us and our party members in the real world. So how do we know our lives, our faith is not pointless? Of course, as good as these conversations have been, true redemption will never be found until our Lord Jesus comes again. Until our friend is raised from the dead, glorified in Christ, and vindicated for his faith in Jesus, there can never be true redemption. His wife will suffer. His parents know the agony of burying a child. His friends will feel his absence. Heck, those of us who knew him only in WoW may even feel that we lost a good dps or good tank. And many of us will forget their grief in time. We will say stupid things to his wie or family like “at least he died playing his favorite game” or “he’s in a better place,” or “at least he is not suffering now,” as if such words are comforting for those who loved him and miss him each day. For them, the hurt, his absence is palpable. For them, his death is wrong, untimely. And for them, God offers His promise that just as He raised His Son from the dead, He will raise them and all who believe in Him from the dead as well. And some how, in some way, He will use the death of their loved one to His glory!

A few years ago, upon my arrival at my cure, I was priviledged to sit at the side of a couple, married some 60 years, who were dying within days of one another during the season of Advent. Bob and Jackie had a wonderful story, and some in our midst wanted to claim that their ending was “romantic” or a true love story. Bullshit, I said at the time. Death sucks. This was not what our Father in heaven intended. As a result of those funerals, I have become, for better or for worse, the “death sucks” preacher. The nuns and other clergy sometimes share that sermon as they selflessly minister to the dying and their families at the nursing home not too far from church. And just when I think that sermon has been forgotten, I am inevitably confronted by the words, “Hey, I know you. I have heard of you. You’re the death sucks preacher!”

Does this death suck? We are told to believe that it does. This, as good as it gets or as bad as it gets, is not what God intended for us. Thankfully, mercifully, we serve a God who knows our fears, who knows our hurts, who knows are real needs far better than we do ourselves. Thankfully, mercifully, He has chosen to redeem and to vindicate His believers. And thankfully, mercifully, He has the power to overcome all obstacles in our lives, even our deaths. Thankfully, mercifully, He has given us His promises in the Bible, that we might know that the only Name given under heaven for health and salvation is His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Do we always see how His plan is unfolding? No. But, as He has taught us so many times in the past, we can rest assured in His promises that He is still working, still saving, still redeeming, still in the business of glorifying His name in this world. Let us pray that He will redeem this seemingly senseless death to His glory and provide comfort to those who experienced a terrible loss. Lord, have mercy.


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