“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.” 1 Thessalonians 4:1
The Apostles’ Creed is one of the earliest and most widely used statements of the beliefs of the Christian faith. Growing up as a Christian I have recited it countless times in services over the years. And there is a line towards the end that I had never really given much thought to. Right at the end it says “I believe in… the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Which obviously is something we as Christians believe in, but when you are a young person it isn’t something you spend much time thinking out. You don’t yet need to worry about the resurrection of your body as you intend to be alive for a long time. Everlasting life will happen once you have lived your earthly life. But tomorrow is not a guarantee.
“How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” James 4:14
This past weekend Northern Ireland was shocked to hear of the tragic deaths of three men in a slurry tank accident on a local farm. One of those who lost their lives was Ulster Rugby’s rising star, Nevin Spence, who died alongside his father Noel and brother Graham. Nevin was only a few months older than me, and had been in the year above me at my High School. Over the past few years he had become established as a regular in the Ulster Rugby team, scoring some great tries in the process and being voted Irish young player of the year in 2011.When something as shocking as those deaths happen it is easy to question why. Why did three people from one family have to die at once? Why did so much potential for the future get taken away? Why did two families lose their fathers? Why did a team lose a much loved team-mate? Many of you reading this will have known Nevin or seen him play. Almost everyone reading this will know someone who has died in tragic circumstances. We all have “Why?” questions. It doesn’t make sense to us. And the thing is, there is no simple answer to those questions. But what we do know is that in all things, God is in control. He is sovereign over the situations and circumstances that make us question “Why?” In the unknown we can still trust Him. Like Job we can say “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” Job 1:21.
Something I learnt last summer when the wife of the minister of the church I was attending passed away from old age is how powerful that line from the Apostles’ Creed can be when a group of believers recite it with the joyful anticipation of being reunited with someone who has died. We believe in the resurrection of the dead. We have hope. If our Christian brothers or sisters die before we are ready for them to, we can take heart that God will bring back with Him the believers who have died. I can take heart that the Spence family were committed Christians, and that Nevin was interviewed about his faith in the local press.
And don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we cannot grieve the loss of a believer. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, and He knew Lazarus would soon walk out of the tomb. But in the midst of our grief we can have hope for a future reunion in heaven, were God will have wiped away all tears and answered all the “Why?” questions that for now have no obvious answer.
“For me the Bible is about actions speaking louder than words.” Nevin Spence, Ulster Rugby player RIP 1990-2012