Saturday, January 4, 2020. Tomm Gordon died today. Tomm and his family supported our family in ministry for many years. Faithfully every month, he supported our ministry. While we did not get to spend a lot of time together, I feel connected and deeply grateful for his presence in my life and in this world. And now that presence—the physicality of it, the smiles and laughs and cries and hugs and the love you could see in his eyes—is gone. His absence has swallowed his presence, and for that we mourn deeply. Which always happens when good men die.
Which they do. All men die, the good and bad and everyone in between.
I’m going to die too. So will you. So will your parents and children, friends and enemies. It is an inescapable fact of life that it will someday end—at least end in the way we have always known it to be. At one point, the prayers for healing will seem to fall on deaf ears. Or the cries for resurrection for that matter, like what happened just a few weeks ago with the very public story of the Heiligenthal family praying that their 2-year-old daughter to be raised from the dead.
The death of believers “before their time” (as some call it) brings up so many controversial issues of faith, prayer, God’s sovereignty, and all kinds of thorny, heated debates among Jesus’ followers. The response to the Heiligenthal family’s choice clearly shows that this is not a simple issue. As far as my faith goes, I don’t have a hard line that I want to take in any of it. That may seem like a weak stance, but I honestly don’t believe it is.
Here’s the thing: one man’s faith leads him to pray for healing and resurrection, and another leads him to let go graciously. Both positions are clearly seen in scripture, and even more importantly–both positions take deep faith in the goodness of God. If I were to for one single second judge another believer’s faith and what they choose to do as their own heart and conviction lead them, I have committed a grave act of judgment and offense towards my sister or brother. I choose to hold my own. I choose to understand that I am not in their situation, and cannot possibly say what I would do if I were in their shoes. I give them grace and respect, even if my faith leads me on another path.
Please forgive the side tangent–back to my friend Tomm and his family’s story. Look, men and women a million times smarter and more eloquent than me have tackled these big issues of how to respond to the early death of believers, and I don’t even want to go down that road. My reflection this morning has been more upon the living. Those left behind, Tomm’s wife, Sarah, and his kids, Isaac and Isabelle, his huge circle of friends, disciples, and those touched by his incredible, Jesus-breathed life. After all, Tomm is beyond us now, and no longer needs our prayers. He now sees with crystal-clear clarity; not dimly, as in a mirror, like the rest of us. He has shaken off the dust of this painfully constrained world in which time and space and matter hold us captive in their tyranny. I rejoice for him. I can’t wait to see that huge, toothy smile on his face when I see him again in heaven.
So now, I pray for Sarah, Isaac, and Isabelle. And that’s where I always get tripped up because I don’t have a clue what to pray. “Oh God, comfort them.” Really? Is that all I can come up with? It seems so…so…inadequate. Actually seems like a cop-out prayer sometimes, doesn’t it? And yet, I know they need comfort, a comfort that can only come from the Father, Son, and Spirit. A comfort that exists beyond this world, beyond the emotions and sorrow and pain that simply are inescapable in this time.
And I can’t pray that they don’t mourn—no, rather I pray they mourn well. It’s a sick and twisted faith that would tell us not to mourn (“He’s with Jesus now! Let’s celebrate!”), especially when Jesus very specifically called mourning a blessed state. We know we don’t cry for Tomm, or Olive, or any other believer in Christ, but we do cry for us. And those left behind are worthy of a great many tears, don’t you think? Even Jesus, upon seeing the tears of his friends, wept at the grave of Lazarus.
And so now we will wake up on January 5 to a world without Tomm, and without many other men and women, boys and girls, who have touched people with God’s goodness. It is a painful reality from which we cannot escape. But even in that reality, we have a well of deep, deep, beyond-this-world comfort and peace that death does NOT have the final word, and someday will be swallowed up by eternal life.
“Oh death, where is your sting?” Yes, these words will be uttered one day from all of our lips, but today—today, to be honest–death stings very, very much indeed. But living with that pain was worth it to know Tomm.
Love you Tomm…we’ll see you on the other side bro.