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The Despair of Death

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On Friday night, the 29th of January 2016, a beloved friend and ex-colleague innocently crossed the road only to be hit by a car running a red light, leaving her with severe head injuries. She was declared brain-dead in ICU, lying unconscious and unrecognisable due to the damage to her head. At 12pm today, less than two days on, the doctors decided to take her off life support with family and relatives close by. She was only 21 years old.

It’s times like these that make you feel a plethora of emotions. Anger. Shock. Sorrow. Disbelief. Despair.

Despair at the way things turned out and despair at the way this world is. Despair at the death that covers the world, the final destination of all people and the unfortunate short route for some young.

‘despair’

noun
the complete loss or absence of hope.
“a voice full of self-hatred and despair”
synonyms: hopelessness, desperation, distress, anguish, pain, unhappiness;

 

If you’ve ever had someone close to you pass away, or if you’ve ever known people who have lost loved ones, you know there’s no right answer to be said. Nothing that instantly makes things better when faced with the reality of death, and the loss of precious life.

In fact, for the thousands of years humans have been on earth, none have escaped death. Our fragile bodies are subject to decay just like all other living organisms around us. Humankind, though beautifully designed, has fallen to a state of peril and we are all doomed to one day face this for ourselves.

Similarly at times like these we begin to ask questions about life. If God is real why is the world like this? If God is so loving how could he let people die? Such questions are very valid, and the answers to them often don’t satisfy the saddened heart. No ten-thousand-word thesis can provide a response that comforts in the midst of agony.

Yet in history we see the man Jesus, the Son of God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Rev 22:13), and we see that he dies. Both in Holy Scripture and through external evidence1 we read of his unfair trial and gruesome death – an innocent man tortured and executed as a criminal.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain… They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him… But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Isa 53:3; Matt 27:30-31; Acts 2:24). 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”… Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (Rev 21:1-5; 1 Cor 15:54-55).

When we’re honest, the death of a loved one always sucks, a lot. It hardly gets better and we never really forget. As I write this, my heart still aches with the pain of losing her to the pangs of death – a feeling of sorrowful darkness that surrounds and seems to cripple all thought, emotions and even movement.

But we have a hope that one day, Jesus will return and make all things new. He is the one who has tasted death and has risen victoriously so that one day, death will truly despair.

I know it’s long, but if you’ve been moved to continue reading, do so.

 

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

“Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
    only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

“To me this is like the days of Noah,
    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
    never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

“Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted,
    I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise,
    your foundations with lapis lazuli.
I will make your battlements of rubies,
    your gates of sparkling jewels,
    and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children will be taught by the Lord,
    and great will be their peace.
In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
    you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
    it will not come near you.
If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
    whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

“See, it is I who created the blacksmith
    who fans the coals into flame
    and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
    no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
    and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Taken from Isaiah 53-55. 

RIP Louisa Huang.

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