The Sting of Death is Pain
Sometimes death comes painlessly. But more often, at some point linked to death by circumstance or time, there is physical pain. The physical pain endured as death comes is transferred to loved ones and caregivers in the form of emotional pain. Legion are those who have been at bedsides and wished they could endure the pain being experienced by one approaching death. I recall being at the bedside of my mother as she neared the end and had, for several days, been uncommunicative; but her body still very obviously writhed in pain. The empowering truth that death is a release for faithful people becomes extremely important in such an hour. In my mother’s case, the cancer had been very slow and painful for several years. This climax of pain near the hour of her parting was a powerful reminder that we do not love everything about our environment here on earth. We love and long for heaven.
The Bible makes it clear that suffering is the muscle builder of faith. Passages like James 1 and Hebrews 12 make it clear that we are better prepared to do the work of the Lord when we have suffered. If my Savior could learn obedience by the things he suffered (Heb. 5:8)…if the pain aspect of the cross was a completer in the Savior’s qualification to BE the Savior and mediator, then surely the pain of death teaches those in the valley of its shadow today about obedience, too. For certain, I have risen from that valley each time I’ve journeyed through it wanting to be ever submissive to the One who is preparing my home (Jn. 14:1-3).
It’s interesting that heaven is described always more by what is NOT there than by what is there. Revelation 21:4 is the go-to passage of comfort when we are in the throes of death:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
But it’s interesting that the verse doesn’t just exclude death itself from our picture of heaven. It specifically excludes pain as a “former thing”. One day, we will speak to one another in heaven and we may mention “former things.” But there will not even be pain at the memory of pain. It’s important to remember and take comfort in the fact that, if you said goodbye to a suffering loved one, the release from pain was both complete and permanent.
I remember a day in the long cancer struggle when my mother became very discouraged about life here on earth. Through tears, she said “I’m not sure I am doing the right thing to keep taking treatments and keep suffering along here. I think I just want to go on and be with God.” I was young and perhaps immature as I responded. I recall weeping and gently rebuking her and telling her that we needed her. I told her that we could hardly stand to hear her talk that way…that the treatments were going to give us good days. I encouraged her to be strong for the grandchildren who loved her so very much.
But the truth is, as her pain waxed greater through the progression of disease, so did her faith. Her desire to be in heaven and bring others with her—even her evangelism—shone brightest as she was leaving. She left a Bible study partially done with a nurse on that cancer unit. She asked me, before she left, to complete that partially finished study. Some of her last words were about souls and she spoke freely to us, her children, about always being certain we are living so that the reunion for which she longed will occur.
We learn obedience in many of life’s situations. But we learn it more completely in death’s situations— the ICU, the Emergency Room, the care of Hospice. We learn it when we lose the ability to swallow or walk or breathe without labor. The lessons begun by the chastisement of our parents with the paddle or switch are sometimes finished in the darkest hours beneath the rod of pain.
And those of us who are witnesses to that chastisement learn, too. We learn the lessons, too. And we long for heaven.