“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” —1 Corinthians 15:55
My friend Sue quoted the above verse, then pointed to her heart and said, “It [the sting] is right here.” And then she broke down in tears, the pain flowing from the depths of her being. Her face crumpled in anguish. I know her sorrow. I share her pain. It is real. Currently the sting of death is coming in the loss of yet another we deeply love. The loss hurts with an intensity that is scorching, reminding us of every other goodbye we have had to say. Every memory of our shared life continues to rise to the surface, carrying both a gratitude and an ache that threaten to expand to the point that our hearts will explode from uncontainable grief. And explode they will.
Our hearts stretch to the bursting point in profound loss, don’t they? They expand almost beyond bearing.
It is a sorrow that our Father knows well. It is a suffering that our Jesus would not spare us from. It is a pain that is born from loving.
I said goodbye to my cherished friend Craig yesterday. He is a man whom I have had the privilege of being loved by for more than thirty-five years. I hate cancer. I adore my friend.
Actually, I didn’t say goodbye. On the islands of Hawaii, the locals never say it. They say a hui hou when they part from one another, which means “see you later.” I guess that since they’re living on an island, they know they will be running into each other again sooner or later. It is inevitable. But though I live on a large continent made of earth and water, dust and mud, beauty and heartbreak, I, too, said “I’ll see you later” to my friend at our parting. Because I will.
The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians:
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. . . . When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:50–52, 54, emphasis added)
We will all be changed. We will live endlessly with our God and with one another, and we will rule and reign with Christ and enjoy Him forever. Partings are so painful, and the prospect of living out the rest of our days without the presence of ones we love is excruciating. But partings are temporary.
And so I rejoice. For my friend who has been freed from his suffering, I rejoice. For the victory that we have in Christ, I rejoice. For the truth of the coming kingdom, I rejoice. For the fact that I, and all those who put themselves in God’s loving care, will one day pass into eternity and see our God face to face, and there will be no more tears and no more sorrow ever again, I rejoice. A grand and endless hello is coming.
I cling to the promise of the prophet Isaiah:
And those the lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isa. 35:10)
Sometimes I have wondered, How can God be so joyful in the face of all the heartbreak in the world? The answer is because He sees the great restoration as if it were already here. All around us, gentle invitations of truth and grace call to us, if we will have the ears to hear. Today I do hear, and I am reminded of the promise of the restoration of all things. Death has lost its sting. The grave holds no victory. My visible world may scream loss, but the victory cannot and will not be held back. And because of that, because life wins and has won already, because of all Jesus has won for us, I— like you— can be defiantly joyful. I will choose it. Join me. A hui hou.
Excerpted from Defiant Joy by Stasi Eldredge, copyright Stasi Eldredge.