If we are honest with ourselves, we must confess that life keeps us honest. Hold a conviction, and someone or something will test its viability and truthfulness. I hold the convictions based on my trust in the person of Jesus that death does not have the last word and that suffering in this life has eternal value if we view and experience it from Jesus' perspective.
Those convictions were tested this morning when I stood with a husband and mother as the woman they loved slipped peacefully into eternity after a 12-year battle with cancer.
Anita Funke gave God credit for her years of survival and chose to serve others rather than being served in her weakness of health. We often wondered why she seemed to be caring for us with the love of Christ when we were supposed to be taking care of her. She always honored God as the Giver and Sustainer of her life, and she invested her life into living every day to help someone else trust Jesus. (That's no preacher's exaggeration. Ask anyone who knew her.) While she suffered, many experienced the love of God through her kind touch, words, and prayers; and, above all else, many experienced the sacrificial love of Jesus through her humble service. My conviction about suffering having eternal value has been confirmed by her life.
As Annita took her last breaths, I read Paul's (and Anita's) defiance in the face of death: Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? ...thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus, the Christ. (1 Corinthians 5:53-57) Yes, we wept, but we sang that confession in our hearts and knew for certain that death, while winning this skirmish, has already lost the war, and these apparent wins are its last gasps to prove its supremacy. My experience of Anita's home-going this morning confirmed for me that death does not have the last word. God does.
Easter each year offers different reasons that demand the preacher and people not spew nonsense over hurting people. This Sunday, while my convictions and faith have been tested firsthand with one whom so many of us love, I will stand without doubt and offer to those who gather the hope that Jesus took on death and defeated it, and we who trust him have no fear in suffering or death because he has been where we are and will be where we are going.
I pray that this week's events will confirm your Easter convictions, and you will gather with others who follow Jesus to celebrate what he bought for us in his death and resurrection.
If you missed our first installment to answer the question, "Is God Good?" in light of the presence of evil and suffering, you can hear it here.