By Harry R. Osborne
Have you been to a funeral lately? None of us enjoys funerals, but the reflection demanded by such occasions is good for us. The Bible speaks of the need to learn the lessons that are taught by facing death’s reality. Notice the words of Solomon:
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth (Eccl. 7:2-4).
A while back, I entered the house of mourning for an especially thought provoking funeral. The body of a young man who had turned 18 just three weeks before lay in the casket. He died as the result of a car accident which also took the lives of three other teenagers enjoying a week off during
Spring break. Hundreds of teenagers from the local high school were present.
The death served as a vivid reminder that the curse of death that has invaded our world as a result of sin may bring tragedy upon all. This random occurrence of accidental death was well described by one Bible writer of old:
I returned and saw under the sun that The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them (Eccl. 9:11-12).
The death of any person we have known makes us face death as a reality. When we attend a funeral, death is not a theoretical proposition it is a reality! We are forced to contemplate the fact that we too will die just as the one whose memory we honor at a funeral. The admission of that reality brings with it several lessons.
First, we must see the brevity of life. The Psalmist said, “Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my age is as nothing before You; Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor” (Psa. 39:5).
In the New Testament, James refers to the same thing noting, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14). There-fore, our prayer should be that of Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Second, we are impressed with the frailty of life. When we see the body of one so alive a few days ago now lifeless within the casket, this lesson is impossible to ignore. David speaks of life’s uncertainty by noting that “there is but a step between me and death” (1 Sam. 20:3). Solomon declared the same thing saying, “No one has power over the day of death” (Eccl. 8:8).
Third, we are brought to contemplate what lies beyond this life. The Bible answers that point emphatically by stating, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Whether in youth or in later years, all of us must be prepared to meet God in judgment, “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil” (Eccl. 12:14).
We have no guarantee on life. We hold no lease for so many years. If that young man could pass from this life unexpectedly in his youth, so you and I may too pass at any time. We must all learn this lesson often forgotten until driven into our hearts by the house of mourning.
Yes, it is good to go into the house of mourning. It is not enjoyable, but it is still good. The good comes from the fact that we are made better by facing the lessons learned by the occasion and changing our life for the better. Let us all seriously reflect upon our lives in view of our certain destiny to face God in judgment.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 21, p. 10
November 3, 1994