Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Spectators; Part 2

Photo Credit: Mike Collar
Flickr Creative Commons
I have been blessed with the honor to serve several families over the years in the incredibly sensitive area of dying loved ones. I’ve done so from preplanning funerals, through the dying process, to the cemetery, and on with grief counseling and support.

Often I have also been heard to say that I would rather serve at a funeral than at a wedding any day. Many have thought it strange that I should say such a thing. After all, how can a funeral be more fulfilling than a wedding? For me it is quite simple. At a funeral, we all come face to face with the reality of our own mortality and the path that we all shall have to travel one day. I do not want to sound morbid, but meditating on that reality is really quite sobering. I believe that we shall all face an eternity. The only question is, will it be with the Lord or apart from Him?

During these difficult times, I would sometimes hear people speak of loved ones who had just passed on as “watching us from heaven.“ Regardless whether that is theologically correct or not, and out of respect for the family in that difficult time, I would never argue the point with them. I reasoned that, if it gave them comfort, then why not? At a time like that, it didn’t matter if that fit well with my theology or not. What always matters most in those difficult times is striving to bring peace, comfort and love to the family.

Still, I’ve often wondered about that. Do loved ones who have gone on before watch us from heaven? Is there a sort of heavenly bleachers where they all gather and watch our race through this life as one might watch a competition in a sports arena? There is one passage of Scripture, which “may” (note the word “may”) lend some support to this idea.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1; ESV).
While the word “witnesses” in the Hebrews text primarily refers to the Old Testament martyrs listed in the previous chapter who “witnessed” (testified) for the faith, some scholars tell us that the Greek word here may also have a double meaning. Here “cloud of witnesses” may also refer to those who have gone before us being “witnesses” (spectators) to our pilgrimages through these lives of ours. If that is true, could those “witnesses” include New Testament saints? Does that include our parents, grandparents and other loved ones who have gone on before? At the very least, that is an interesting question.

Photo Credit: Yersinia Pestis
Flickr Creative Commons
Regardless our view of this, one thing is for certain and that is that we are all running the same race, as it were, but we’re not running it in obscurity; there are spectators. These spectators may or may not include our predeceased loved ones, but they do include the spirit world, and most importantly, the list of spectators includes God himself. (For more on this, please see my previous post: The Spectators)

The race is being run. The witnesses from yesteryear have run their leg of the race and have passed the baton on to us. Are they now excitedly sitting back and cheering us on as they watch us take our turn on the field? Who knows? It is all speculation at best, but it does present another incredible picture of the fellowship and unity of believers.

There is another fascinating verse that speaks about the souls of the slain under the altar. They call out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” They were then told that they would have to wait “until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed” (Revelation 6: 10-11; NIV). Are those souls under the altar also spectators to our walk of faith? Again, who knows?

Just as we do not have everything that Jesus said or did recorded for us (John 21:25), the Bible doesn’t seem to say much about this subject either. Maybe I shouldn’t even be asking all these questions. Maybe we should not concern ourselves about such things and rather simply “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Ultimately, that is the bottom line, isn’t it? Ultimately, keeping our eyes on Jesus is the only thing that matters.

Photo Credit: David Gunter
Flickr Creative Commons
The strange thing about this race is, that though we’re still running it, the race has already been won. Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Yes, we sometimes still do stupid things that we’re later ashamed of, and the spirit of religion does like to highlight those things in order to enslave us still further, if possible, but in truth it can no more enslave us than it can enslave “Christ in us” (Colossians 1:27).

Someone has said, “We may not know what tomorrow holds, but we do know Him who holds it.” I like that. That gives me incredible peace. God holds all our tomorrows. May we all be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7; NIV).

And one final word for my friends who are going though, or who have recently gone through, the loss of a loved one: May you sense God’s perfect peace right now knowing that He loves you very dearly and is also perfectly in control of all our eternities, no matter what our questions may be along the way. Truly, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15; ESV). God bless.
  • So what are your thoughts? 
  • Do you think there are “Spectators” to our lives, a sort of heavenly “Big Brother,” that is watching this race of ours? 
  • And if so, do those celestial bleachers include our loved ones who have passed on before us?

I’d love to hear your take on this.

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