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Death Must Not Win

Spencer and Molly Gardener had a happy start in their married life. Both had satisfying jobs, good health and strong values supported by their faith. After five years in the market-place they agreed to start a family. True to form, for them, babies came easily and healthfully. Soon there were three.

After fourteen, busy but happy years, the children were ages 9, 7, and 3. Then something happened. Within twenty four months tragic accidents took the lives of the oldest and youngest.

There is no heartbreak to equal the death of a child. Two, defied all comprehension. It is impossible to imagine the depth of grief in Spencer and Molly.

When the surviving child reached mature adulthood she reflected on her life in the Gardener household after the deaths of her siblings. Following the tragedies, joy never returned. She lived at home until age twenty without again seeing zest and excitement in her parents lives. Her own presence seemed of little solace and minimal comfort to them.

Death had taken two children and their parents. There was only one survivor. Death had won.

Death wins whenever small or large catastrophes, small or large failures, disappointments and setbacks make a lasting negative impact on anyone's life.

Allowing for the normal and necessary grief, sorrow and heartache, Christian living insists on the resurrection. Death must not be the victor.

Death comes in many forms threatening life: The disappointments of rejection in career aspirations, the handicaps of one's child or self, the failure of faith in someone loved, hopes for marriage dashed, business setbacks, being left out of something desired, making a mistake...

It is irritating and worrisome when disappointments and losses are glossed over too lightly as if they are "nothing at all" But it is sad beyond words when small deaths, or big, permanently dispirit, sour or embitter. Contrary to Christ's spirit, death then is triumphant.

Arnold and Mary live with the ongoing agony of a beloved and talented child now residing in a foggy fantasy world bordering on psychosis. Her presence in the home makes the tragedy a daily reality they cannot dismiss even for a short time.

There are nights when both Arnold and Mary lie awake wondering, wishing, and weeping. And they will never stop praying that an exit door for their child will open by which she can leave the unreal world in which she lives. But Arnold and Mary are alive and well anyway. They enjoy life - their work and recreation, their friends and faith are meaningful and fulfilling. The death of their daughter's health and future is a living fatality but it has not won in the sense of draining from them their zest and joy.

People have given up over far less: Hal Swenson wanted to be a journalist, but after failing to gain admission to the top school in the country, took a night job in a 24-hour gas station. He's still there, a grim character, twenty years later.

Margaret Tracy's life ended when her beauty shop, uninsured, burned. Twelve years later she talks of little else, works part-time for a former competitor.

Bert was swindled by his partner in mid-life. At age 45 he found himself empty handed, all his possessions and savings claimed by creditors. his spirit went too. Not, as we might expect, temporarily, but today, eight years later, there is no evidence of recovery or a comeback in sight.

Stories like these are not as well-known as are their opposites. They never make Guideposts and Possibilities, for obvious reasons. Dramatic reversals of misfortune do as they inspire and ignite our own depleted energies. But too common are the times where one death leads to another, when roadblocks become dead-ends instead of detours to another way, when a rejection is the occasion for suicide of the spirit.

Resurrections must keep happening! Isn't this the spirit of Christianity? Life is a precious gift not to be wasted or given up. The spirit of Christ overcomes death, rises again, defeats the enemy who wants us to believe there is no future and uses small deaths and major tragedies to persuade us we live in a hopeless world.

But the Christian outlook always strives to be hopeful even when temporarily depressed by whatever dismaying circumstance happens. Easter is always just down the way, a little. Death must not win:

"We are hard-pressed on every side,
but not crushed;
but not in despair;
but not abandoned;
struck down,
but not destroyed."
(from The Bible)

Showing this outlook to our children is crucial Christian living. Children usually exude a natural God-given resilience bounding back quickly from adversity. But living with dispirited adults will gradually inject them with the same despair.

The caring friends of those who are struck down will refuse to let them die. Battered souls must be supported, encouraged and resuscitated by persistent and prolonged deliverers of spiritual first aid.

Whatever it takes, we are witnesses to resurrection hope. Life can begin again. Starting over is possible. After mourning, joy can dawn afresh. But there is no resurrection without death, no real hope without first hopelessness, no true happiness unless sorrow is also known. Superficial joy won't do. Joy that glosses over heartaches is hollow, Jesus own joy included, as an essential ingredient, a trip to hell and back.

Perhaps it is only those who have been struck down who are equipped to be witnesses about resurrection. Only they who have been hard pressed on every side have credibility to speak of life after death.

The Resurrection of Jesus is testimony to the presence of the living God in this world over-shadowing the power of darkness. Ever-present, the revitalizing Spirit still refreshes and renews His people.

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