Hope and Trust

One of my favorite musicals is Fiddler on the Roof. The music is wonderful and the story is one of hope and faith in the midst of tragedy and hardship. One particularly interesting scene is of a funeral, complete with paid mourners. I’ve never understood why a family would pay people to attend a funeral for the specific purpose of wailing and crying. I guess it added to the atmosphere and helped everyone feel sadder.

Mourning death of loved ones is normal and good, but in I Thessalonians 4:13 we read we are not to mourn as those who have no hope. I’ve always understood this to mean we can be assured of the resurrection for those who have accepted Christ and died in the faith. But I’ve come to understand it also gives hope for those who didn’t come to belief before death. All human beings are included in Christ. His life, death and resurrection are big enough to cover and include everyone who ever lived, and even those who died before drawing breath.

When I lost two babies to miscarriages, I mourned the loss of children I wouldn’t know. I found a comforting book called I’ll Hold You in Heaven by Jack Hayford, with a profound message of hope for all who have lost children to miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth. He said we have reason to hope and believe we will see those babies again. They are not lost simply because they didn’t draw breath. As David said, God knew him in the womb. And the fetus who became John the Baptist leapt for joy when his mother Elizabeth met Mary, who was carrying Jesus. All life is known and precious to God and his life and love are extended to us before birth and to those whose lives are cut short even before birth.

When contemplating the question of people who didn’t know Jesus before death and those who didn’t even draw breath, we would do well to remember a few things – God is all powerful. Even though we believe this, I think we sometimes still put limits on him. Is death too strong for him? Is anyone out of his reach? Is anyone so incorrigible they can’t be softened by the gentle yet passionate love of God? Are we qualified to make a judgment about the state of anyone’s salvation?

Theologian Karl Barth, who was not a Universalist, said he preferred to leave the question open in hope and put the outcome in God’s hands, to be “reverently agnostic.” In his book, God Here and Now, Barth said: “A grace which automatically would ultimately have to embrace each and every one would certainly not be free grace. It surely would not be God’s grace. But would it be God’s free grace if we could absolutely deny that it could do that? Has Christ been sacrificed only for our sins? Has he not … been sacrificed for the whole world? … [Thus] the freedom of grace is preserved on both these sides.”

We don’t have all the answers. Many things remain beyond our grasp. The questions we have about those who lived before Christ, died without him and didn’t live to know him are difficult and unanswerable. But we can reverently hope and trust in our God who is love and in whose love is power, wisdom, freedom and grace for everyone.

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