words of life

Today marks 5 years since cancer took my friend Esther. Last week, I learned of another college friend who walked from earth into eternity. The list of people I know who have passed away grows at a rate that I’ll never be comfortable with. And I hate it.

We always want to say things, anything, that might offer comfort in times of loss, but the reality is that it’s often little solace. Pithy statements like, “he’s in a better place!” and “she’s with Jesus” do not take away the sting of death. They are well-meaning and true words, but they do little to change the situation. I am reminded of the limitations of my words every time I try to console a grieving friend. Every time a friend tries to offer me words of encouragement. Our best words cannot undo sin and its end product: death.

There is one place that I’ve found comfort and hope, especially when dealing with death, and that’s in the words of Jesus. You can chalk it up to religious sentimentality or fanciful feelings, but there is a very real peace in the red letters. Almost as if they have power.

After all, when Jesus spoke, people were healed and demons went scrambling. When Jesus spoke, the winds and the sea obeyed him. When Jesus spoke, a dead man walked out of his grave. John 1 tells us that Jesus was the very Word by which all things were created out of nothing back in Genesis. Jesus has power. And the power was displayed when he was resurrected from the dead, the firstfruit, proving our spiritual resurrection and future bodily resurrection.

We also know that the Bible is God’s revelation to us, so that that when it speaks, God speaks. Thus, it makes sense that reading Scripture would bring peace, because it is the power of God working in you, not just your brain processing the words on paper.

The words that I have been resting on today are some of the last words in the Bible. They describe a vision of what is to come, a reality that draws nearer with every passing day.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.  – Revelation 21:1-5

This is what we look forward to. Not for a future of floating around playing harps, but a future where heaven is on earth, where death and crying and pain will be a thing of the past. It is a place where the dead in Christ will live with God in newly restored, resurrected bodies. Esther. Patrick. Ronnie. Ommar. Christ the Redeemer will return to finish what he began and redeem everything fully. The earth. Our bodies. Our lives. He is working all things toward this redemption.

Jesus said it, and they are true because the One who spoke it is Truth. He is God.

Behold! Jesus is making all things new!

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hope and the death of death

Nothing causes us to pause and consider our own mortality more than the death of someone we know. I wasn’t thinking about the brevity of life, the brevity of my life, a few days ago. And then I heard the news that a friend had passed away. All the concerns, worries, anxieties of life suddenly were suspended in air as the world began moving slower and time slowed down to a crawl with it.

Patrick Maruthmmottil was a friend. I don’t have the honor or privilege of calling him “best” friend or a very “close” friend. But with Patrick, I don’t think I need an adjective added to “friend” mostly because I think most people that crossed paths with him became friends with him. He wore a genuine smile that was warm and had a servant heart that was pure and humble, and reflected the heart of His Savior. He was a talented musician, thoughtful thinker, caring friend and passionate follower of Jesus Christ. I’m honored and privileged just to be able to have known him and call him “friend.”

On June 4, 2013, Patrick was involved in a car accident that ended up taking his life.

Death is a crummy thing.

I could go on and on about the ways death affect us, but at the end of the day, we all know that death is a crummy thing. We can feel it in our mourning and sense of loss, as well as our valiant efforts to ward death off with health and medicine. We know that in a very real sense, death is our enemy. But we also know that a sovereign God sits on His throne and rules over everything. Nothing catches Him off guard or causes Him to go back to the heavenly drawing board. A loving and just God who is sovereign over everything means that He is in charge. This means there are no early deaths. We may scratch our heads and we may push back against the idea, but the fact is that God rules over everything, death included.

But why? we may ask. Why would God take someone so young, someone who was so passionate about pointing people to Jesus? And I don’t know the definite answer to that question. What I do know is that we’re given life and placed on this earth in our specific eras in time and specific geographic locations for a specific purpose. What I do know is that Christians are given a specific message and mission to be salt and light in their contexts, through their lives. When Jesus transforms us, our lives aren’t about us anymore. They’re about Jesus and making Him known. Our jobs, our friends, our families are ultimately about the Kingdom of God, not just about making us happy. I can only assume that when we’re taken, it’s because our work for His Kingdom is done.

But he could have been so much more effective if he was still alive! we may say. So many more people would have come to know Jesus and trust Him if our friend was still alive because of his life! Maybe that’s true, but we don’t know that, do we? All we have is the time that is given to us right now.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

When our work for the Kingdom is done, God calls us home, and we can celebrate Patrick’s life that is a continuing testimony to the grace, mercy and love of Jesus. The wonderful irony is that even in his death, my friend proclaims even more boldly than ever the power of the gospel. And so even in death, the Kingdom of God is growing.

Nonetheless, we still mourn with grief, and it is not a shameful response. In fact, in the gospel of John, Jesus wept before the tomb of His dear friend Lazarus, even though He knew that in a few minutes He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Grief is not weakness or sinful, but our response to the fact that death isn’t natural. God didn’t create us to be beings that died — but through sin and the fall of humanity, it is our unfortunate inheritance. We mourn and lament, yes. But we don’t mourn as those who don’t have hope! We don’t mourn in wretched hopelessness that death is the end of everything. Rather, we mourn as those who know that death does not have the final word. We grieve and lament with the knowledge that Jesus has overcome death in His resurrection, and that means that one day we too will be resurrected to life in a new heaven and a new earth where everything will be restored. We mourn with the hope that one day, we will see our loved ones and friends again.

And we mourn, knowing that one day, there will be no more death. We will all be raised, God will sit on His throne, and death will be defeated.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. — 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

“For thy mortal self shall die, but from the grave we will arise… And death will be described as a paper ghost.” — Courrier, “Paper Ghost”

So until we see Patrick, and all our loved ones, again, we celebrate their lives and live our lives on mission and in determination as Patrick did: for the sake and advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

the walking dead

When I was in high school, I told my grandmother that I wanted to be an archaeologist. While everyone around me was telling me that medicine was the right path for me (I’m Indian, it’s the default assumed profession), I was convinced that I would be happy and content digging in the dirt. My grandmother then laughed and asked me why I was so interested in looking for dinosaur bones. When I told her that was paleontology and not archaeology, clearly two different disciplines, she laughed again. Harder.

Needless to say, I am currently not an archaeologist.

For as long as I can remember, the earth and stuff from history buried in the earth have always intrigued me. Geology, paleontology, and archaeology were the stuff that fascinated me as a kid. And Power Rangers, but that’s a different story. I wanted to be a mix of Ross from Friends, who by the way, was a paleontologist, and Indiana Jones. Well, maybe not, but I was very interested in what the ground had to offer for me discover, particularly when it came to ancient cultures and civilizations.

No ancient civilization wooed me as compellingly as ancient Egypt. Egypt, with her dual kingdoms and audacious building projects, themselves little more than monumental grave markers. Historians claim that the Great Sphinx, the Great Pyramid and the other pyramids in the Giza Necropolis were already built and standing for over a millenium before the exodus of the Israelites from the biblical account even happened. Egypt with her pyramids and pharaohs and pantheon of deities. Egypt with her mummies.

Archaeologists have found many of these mummified corpses, housed in elaborate coffins that were then placed in stone sarcophagi. The body of the deceased would be embalmed and wrapped in linens, with its vital organs removed and preserved, and then placed into a carved wooden coffin, which in turn would be placed into the rectangular sarcophagus. The idea was that the spirit of the deceased would return into its body, and so to help the returning spirit distinguish its body, the faces of the pharaohs were carved and painted onto the lids of the sarcophagi.

What strikes me is how bright and vivid these ornate coffins are. Many of them are very stylized and intricate, gilded and painted with deep, rich colors and have been attempted to look lively and life-like. Some of the coffins of the royalty were overlaid with, or even made with gold and silver. And despite how beautiful the outside of the coffin is, just one peek under the lid reveals the grave truth (no pun intended… okay, maybe): what lies within is dead, decaying and decomposing. You will never pop the hood and find life.

That description is pretty accurate when it comes to humanity. We spend so much effort and money and time trying to ensure that we look a certain way, maintain a certain image and have everything in order. We paint ourselves with education, money, and fame, trying convince everyone that what’s on the outside is who we really are. We live to satisfy this image that we bear. And all the while, inside we’re dead. We’re life-less corpses walking around in magnificent human bodies.

This is exactly how the apostle Paul describes us in the New Testament: dead apart from Christ. Not that we’re physically dead (although sin will certainly lead to that) but that spiritually, what lies within our earth-suit lacks a pulse. There seems to be no purpose or goodness to life, and we live knowing that there is more, just unsure of what it is.

But God.

The risen Christ is a testament to Jesus’ power over death. God makes us alive with Christ in His resurrection, reaching into our dead hearts and replacing them with living, beating, thriving hearts. Our spirits can rejoice because in Christ, life has purpose and reason and meaning. We are no longer selfish beings looking to extend our legacies far beyond our lives, which is what the Egyptians had attempted to do with their mummies and building projects. No, we live in Christ as proclaimers of the love of God in this life and heirs of His promise in the hereafter.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:1-7

In Christ, we are no longer zombies or walking coffins. In Jesus, we do not live in mindless wandering, attempting to appear as if we’re alive. We are alive and our identity is found in Jesus. The image we project is not an idealized self-portrait, but we display and proclaim Christ in our lives. We live to make His name great. Christian, live in this identity.

Two thousand years ago, a body lay in a tomb, wrapped in ceremonial burial linens. This body didn’t stay in the linens, though. Jesus the Christ rose from grave and gives us a promise that if we are in Him, death will not be our final resting place either.

hurt and hope

I was never the reckless, perpetually bloody-nosed kid. I didn’t climb trees or jump off rooftops or get into fights. Well, fist-fights with people other than my little brother at least. Most of the time I had my nose stuck far into the pages of just about any book I could get my hands on. Well, if someone slammed the book shut, I suppose I would probably have a bloody nose.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I was a bit of a nerd. But I’ve also had my fair share of scraped  knees (with the scars to prove it!), torn ligaments (including my ACL), and a few trips to the ER.

Pain is one of those things that we just intrinsically push away from. We avoid it at all costs and go out of our ways to ensure that our suffering is at a minimum. But this is not some deep truth I’m unraveling; it’s common sense. No one likes to get hurt. No one likes bruises, sickness, a broken heart, or death. I would argue that even the self-inflicting sadists out there cringe at every painful blow. There is just something so disturbing and yucky about pain. It makes sense that we avoid it.

But maybe… Maybe pain and suffering is one of the gifts of the grace of God.

“What? Did he really just say that?”

Pain and suffering and sorrow remind us that something isn’t right. Surely this isn’t what we were made for! Is there joy and satisfaction in sickness or loss, heartbreak or death?

So then, what were we made for?

If you believe in the God of the Christian worldview, hopefully you understand that He made everything, and made it perfect. Sunshine and love, community and purpose, lollipops and unicorns. I’m still looking for the last two in Genesis, but I’m sure I’ll find it in the Hebrew. He made it all, and he made it good.

So what happened?

If you haven’t noticed from the last several millennia, we humans are a rebellious lot. Someone tells us not to do something and we want to do it. We’re not always the smartest. In Genesis, Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit and changed the course of how things should be. Now there’s pain in childbirth and work has become hateful. Creation which was meant to be subjugated under man strives constantly with man, man strives with man, and man ultimately dies.

And this is where pain steps in and does his work. Through it all, we’re inadvertently pointed to the fact that we were not created for pain and brokenness but for peace and wholeness. Something isn’t right and we know it. Pain and suffering and heartbreak cause us to long for the good news that it doesn’t have to be so. Living in hurt doesn’t have to be a reality!

There is a place of healing and shalom, of rightness and justice. Jesus came into a tumultuous world and brought the solution to the longing, anguish, and trouble the world groaned under. He was unjustly afflicted, scorned, and murdered. And in all this, He brought an everlasting Kingdom of peace, love, and life. Our pain cries out for this Kingdom. Through it, God reminds us that such a Kingdom exists, and we were meant for it.

Bring on the pain!