Touched by the Sting of Death
Written by Melissa M. Puzon
The day will come when death will end and its bitter sting will cease. A member shares her path of coping during a series of personal tragedies in her life.
Have you ever been stung by a bee, a wasp or some other insect? The stings of most of these insects can be quite painful and irritating. According to kidshealth.org, in addition to the sharp pain, you may also experience swelling and itching due to the venomous toxin the insect injected.
However, with the proper first aid treatment, symptoms usually improve after a day or so. And often we can avoid unwanted encounters with these troublesome creatures simply by applying appropriate preventive measures. How I wish the same thing were true for another kind of sting.
This sting leaves behind a pain that no first aid treatment can remedy, and no amount of comfort or care can make disappear. Moreover, no human, rich or poor, can ever escape it.
I am talking about the sting of death.
Death is not a pleasant topic for most of us to discuss. Death, as we all know, is an inevitable part of life. It’s as natural as birth. The Bible tells us that “it is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9:27).
I have come face-to-face with the pain of death, not just once, not even just twice, but four times in recent years. Each time I’ve felt the burning, penetrating sting of death deep in my core.
Dealing with the piercing pain of sorrow
A little over a year ago, I lost my dear husband of 33 years to heart failure. (He had dealt with an enlarged and weak heart for years.) After his death, my two children and I were still reeling from grief when we had to frantically rush my eldest daughter to the hospital. She was suffering from a cancerous kidney tumor. About a month later, she, too, died.
Both times, the words of the Psalms and Job bitterly struck home:
- “The pangs of death surrounded me . . . The snares of death confronted me” (Psalm 18:4-5).
- “My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me” (Psalm 55:4).
- “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4).
- “My face is flushed from weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death” (Job 16:16).
The death of a spouse is a difficult and crushing blow. But for me, the death of my child was unfathomable, almost unbearable—particularly because it was not the first time that I had experienced it. Eleven years earlier, I had also lost a teenage daughter to a sudden illness. Counting my loving father’s death at age 86, I experienced four significant losses in about a decade.
Whatever the age or circumstances, a loved one’s death is one of the most dreadful occasions in life.
When death has cast its shadow over your dwelling place, especially several times, your faith will be tested. Coming to grips with the situation was a slow and delicate process for me. Numerous questions had crossed my mind:
Why? Why me? Why, why, God?
Solace in the Word of God
Weeks before he died, as if he was preparing us for what was to come, my husband led our family in a series of Bible studies on the book of Job. With the lessons of Job still clearly etched in my mind, I knew all too well that I had no right to question my Creator for all that had happened.
But, I thought to myself, sincerely asking for the answers is different from questioning out of doubt. I knew the only way to get answers was to delve into God’s Word.
Let me share some realizations from my ardent quest for understanding. As I studied and contemplated death, one of the first things that dawned on me was that God owes me nothing—not even an explanation of what He allows to happen in my life.
He is the Potter and we are a lump of clay in His hands (Isaiah 64:8). The more I reflected on it, the more I understood what Paul meant when he wrote of how “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and what the author of Hebrews meant by “faith is . . . the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We can’t believe Him only when He has positively intervened in every aspect of our life and prevented us from suffering.
Instead, we continue to believe and put our trust in Him even when He seems silent and even when He seemingly has not answered in the way we wanted. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Building this kind of faith takes many years, perhaps a lifetime.
God has power over all
God is God. He has the sovereign right to do anything according to His will. That statement may sound tyrannical, but God does all things in love. As incredible as it may sound, God has loved us as much as He has loved Jesus Christ (John 17:23).
Additionally, it occurred to me that God knows how much pain we can bear. While 1 Corinthians 10:13 does not specifically deal with grief, it still shows us God’s care and concern for us: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but . . . will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
Will I believe God’s Word or choose to doubt God?
I once heard a minister say something that I needed to hear: “Many have the faith to be healed, but how many of us have the faith not to be healed? . . . When God says, ‘No, I’m not going to heal you, yet,’ how many of us have the faith to continue to have faith in God?” When panic and fear were gripping me at the sight of my loved one slowly slipping away from me, I was reminded of those words.
This is living faith.
Not too long ago, a friend confided in me about her trials. She told me that every time her prayers are answered, her faith is strengthened. I asked her, “What if your most heartfelt prayer was not answered?”
She gave me a thought-provoking reply: “That is more difficult. That is when having faith is most crucial.” Indeed, faith is something we cannot do without as we deal with the hardest trials of life.
Can mourning be a gift?
We can glean some useful insights from King Solomon. He wrote in Ecclesiastes 7:2-3, “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.”
When confronted with the reality of our transient physical existence, we ponder the value and purpose of life. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Mourning helps us to engage in more serious and solemn introspection of life, which should positively affect how we live our lives. When grappling with affliction, sorrow, pain, grief and other adversities, we have an opportunity for growth. We decide what lessons we can take away from our experiences.
Sometimes people ask me how I survived losing my loved ones. It’s still an ongoing process, and I still have my high and low times. Truly, the only explanation I can offer is that it is not because of any good or innate strength in me. It is through “Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) that I am able to do what I can’t do alone.
I also cannot discount the tremendous help I’ve received through the love, support and encouragement of brethren, friends and relatives.
On top of that, numerous Bible passages have provided a wellspring of comfort.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
- 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.
- Colossians 3:1-4.
- 1 John 3:1-3.
Surviving loss by knowing death will be defeated
In God’s Church, we know death is not the end. Death is like sleep. Its victory is only temporary.
Knowing that loved ones sleep in death and that their spirit is now in God’s safekeeping (Ecclesiastes 12:7) enables us to accept death with hope and consolation.
We understand the blessed hope of the resurrection (John 6:40). God’s intention is for us all to spend eternity with Him (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The knowledge of God’s master plan makes it possible for us to look beyond death and anticipate eternal life with our resurrected loved ones in God’s Kingdom.
That hope is the most incredible comfort of all.
How I fervently long for that time of unparalleled rejoicing and peace when “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
May God speed that day when death can no longer sting!
Melissa Puzon attends the Manila, Philippines, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.