Summary: Final message on series “Illness Through the Eyes of Faith.”
WHEN ILLNESS LEADS TO DEATH
INTRO: Many of you enjoyed the Mary Tyler Moore show. One of the most famous episodes was about Chuckles the Clown. In this episode, a clown named Chuckles is killed in a bizarre accident. He was dressed as a giant peanut at a parade. An elephant thought Chuckles was a real peanut and attacked and killed him.
Although it was tragic, it was humorous to everyone but Mary. She was upset by the jokes about it. One of her co-workers said: “Well, Mary, it could have been worse. Chuckles could have been dressed as a banana and could have been peeled to death by a gorilla!” In the end, however, even Mary had to laugh about the bizarre situation.
In spite of the humor of this television show, a serious point was made. Death is scary. And one of the ways we cope with the fear of death is to make jokes about it. And we’ve made lots of them.
One of my favorites is the woman who was married four times. Her first husband was rich. When he died, she inherited his entire fortune. Then she married an actor. He took her to all the Broadway shows, and she had a great time. He also died.
Her third husband was a minister. While married to him, she became interested in religious things. But he died as well. Her fourth husband was a funeral director. After a few years of marriage, the woman died, and her husband buried her. Someone began to reflect on her four husbands. They mused, “She married one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!”
In spite of all the jokes, however, death is not a funny thing. We laugh about it; we deny and ignore it; however, death is real. The story in the eleventh chapter of John deals with this subject. The word came to Jesus that his friend Lazarus was sick. Days later the word came that Lazarus was dead. Lazarus’ illness resulted in death.
Ultimately, illness leads to death. It is appropriate, therefore, that I conclude this four-week series, “Illness Through the Eyes of Faith,” on this subject.
I. DEATH AS GRIEF.
In verse 35, we read that “Jesus wept.” Death brings grief. A seminary professor once talked about his grief over the death of his mother-in-law. She was greatly loved by him and many others. Following her funeral, a number of sincere, well-meaning Christian friends said to this professor, who was obviously grieving: “Don’t feel bad. Don’t cry. Isn’t it wonderful that she’s gone to be with the Lord?”
He smiled weakly, he said, and gave a token nod of assent to his friends’ comments. Inside, however, he felt ready to explode with anger and grief and frustration. He wanted to shout at the top of his lungs: “No, it’s not wonderful that she’s gone! I miss her and I hurt and I’m going to cry as much as I want!”
When we face illness which leads to death, whether it be our own or someone we love, we are going to grieve. Jesus did. He grieved because he loved Lazarus, and now Lazarus was dead. Illness had led to death, and it deeply moved and hurt Jesus. Jesus not only wept when Lazarus died, but He also wept when He faced His own death.
When we have a loss, we will grieve. It is a natural part of life. As one has said, “Grief is as natural as eating when we are hungry and sleeping when we are tired.” When illness brings death, grief is the response. And grief is not easy.
In recent years, researchers have pointed out that grief involves fairly predictable stages. They are not clear-cut, and nobody follows them exactly, but most people experience similar dynamics. First, a period of shock and numbness occurs.
This is a helpful stage because it protects us from feeling the complete loss all at once. It also helps get us through those first hard days of funeral planning, etc. The next stage is a time where we move back and forth from the reality of death to fantasies that death is not real. We may even have dreams about the deceased and have moments when we think the person is still alive.
During the next stage we accept the reality of the death. This is a normal time of depression. There is no set time for this. It may last only a few weeks, it may last much longer. The final stage is recovery. At this point we move on and begin a new chapter in our lives.
One of the sad dynamics of grief is that some people never move to the stage of recovery. They get stuck in the stages of denial or depression or in feelings of anger and resentment. While those are normal feelings for a while, they become unhealthy if we don’t move beyond them. While grief is painful and difficult, there must come a time of recovery, a time of moving on with life.