(…continued) The Pals family dying in Nebraska, and Jim dead on that hay wagon, are extreme examples, to be sure, and they all certainly missed out on so much in this life. But don’t we all, always, come up short, no matter how long we live? Whether it has to do with family or work or health or other relationships or plans and dreams, don’t we all have aspects of our lives about which we say, I wish that would have been different? “I should have done that, but… or I could have done that, but… or I would have done that, but…” Maybe it was someone else’s fault and you have something to forgive; or maybe it was your own fault and you have some regrets and you have ask for God’s forgiveness and forgive yourself; or, maybe you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and maybe, like the Pals family and Jim, you just ran out of time. This life is by nature incomplete and unsatisfying, and we all remain unfulfilled and wishing for more in so many ways.
With this in mind, look again at that Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. Did all those great heroes of the Bible get it all figured out and done according to plan? Not at all. Their lives were all messed up by the same unsatisfying lack of fulfillment and certainty. They also died in the midst of life with unfinished business.
Abraham, promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and still childless at the age of 100. Moses led the people for 40 miserable years on the way to the Promised Land, and then died just short of it, getting only a glimpse of it from the top of Mt. Nebo. Isaac was deceived right at the end by one of his own sons. Jacob spent most of his life mourning the death of one of his boys, who all the while was alive and well in Egypt. David was a great warrior and king, but a terrible father and ended up with the ultimate dysfunctional family. Samson had all Israel’s enemies on the run, but then made a fool of himself, was humiliated, and spent the rest of his life as a slave of those enemies. All of them fell short in one way or another.
Look at what the Bible says about this in these words from that same chapter, beginning in verse 13: “All these people were still living by faith when they died; they only saw the promises and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on this earth. They were looking for a country of their own, longing for a better country, a heavenly one.” And remember that first verse?—“Faith is confidence in what we hope for, and the assurance of things we do not yet see.” And then chapter 11 ends with these words, “These people were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what was promised, since God had planned something better, so that together with us we would all be made perfect.”
So again, “What kind of world is this where a little boy finds his mother and then his father dead; and where a family dedicates themselves to following God to the other side of the world, and then they all get killed before they even get on the airplane?” What kind of world is this? Well, says the Bible, believing in Jesus means that here in this world we are living only the first little part of our long life with God. God has created for us another country, a heavenly one, and there we will find all the satisfaction and completion and fulfillment that is always lacking here. God has all eternity to work out his purposes in us and for us, along with Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Samson, and all the rest. Therefore, says the closing words of Hebrews 12, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and worship God.”
We ask “Why Lord,” and the Lord doesn’t give an answer, but says, “Look to Jesus. Keep the faith, there is a better day coming.”
That was the gist of the message posted after their deaths by the Pals’ family church, Bethlehem Baptist in downtown Minneapolis:
As a church, we greatly grieve the losses of Jamison & Kathryne Pals, and their precious children, Ezra, Violet, and Calvin. We deeply love them, and will sorely miss them. We weep and mourn and ache together as their church family. Some people look at these deaths and see only a tragedy—the tragic end of all their hopes and dreams. But as Christians, we look death in the face and we also see ultimate victory. We see not only the tragedy, but also the victory, because Jesus defeated sin and death for all of his people… And so, while we grieve, we embrace together our blessed faith in the hope and promise that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. And so, we celebrate the fact that the Pals family is not dead, but more alive than ever because of the grace of God that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Psalm 112:6-7 — Surely the righteous will not be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; for their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Hebrews 11:39-40 — These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promise, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Hebrews 11:13-16 — All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Teach me to number my days aright, O Lord, and so apply my heart unto wisdom. Amen.
At the end of C. S. Lewis’s seven book Narnia Chronicles all of the major characters are killed in a train accident in England. They then find themselves in a new and wonderful world, and they are thrilled to be with Aslan (the Christ figure in the books). Here are the closing words of the last book: