Everyone who has ever lived has, at some time or other, been forced to cope with the loss of a dear friend or family member. Whether their passing was expected or not, when a loved one leaves this life they leave behind a tremendous hole. A vacant space that, in my experience, is impossible to reoccupy completely. There’s a chair that stays empty at all subsequent family gatherings. There’s a physical and emotional void that remains unfilled. And such, I think, is where the bulk of our grief originates: the separation of death.
Death puts a permanent point of separation between us and our lost loved one, leaving us with only memories and mementos as a means of connecting with them. Remembering them. The separation that springs from death is a consequence of sin and a scheme of Satan with which we are all impacted and encumbered. Everyone is affected by it, and not a single person can escape it. Indeed, against the likes of you and me, death is undefeated.
I wish this were not the case, though. I wish that no one ever had to experience this painful separation that comes in the wake of losing a brother or sister or parent or child or grandparent. But such is the reality of life as you and I know it. The reality of living in a world that is racked with infection and disease and sin and death. Satan would love nothing more than to convince you of the lie that this is all there is. That the separation of death is final. That it is so powerful that it can stay God’s love for you. That, yes, God’s love is a fragile, fickle thing. That it is incapable of withstanding what life throws our way or what death brings about. Satan wants you to believe that.
But, as Romans 8 informs us, nothing could be further from the truth. Because the truth is that the love of God in Christ transcends each and every form of separation. It is a love that we cannot lose precisely because it is a love we did not win. It is the “love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” that is given to you and me in the gospel of his passion and resurrection. And nothing and no one — not now, not ever — can separate us from this love.
“Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35, 37–39)
Death cannot do it. In fact, death actually ushers us into God’s presence. (2 Cor. 5:8) Life cannot do it either. Notwithstanding the struggles and sufferings and schisms you and I face in this life, the love of Christ will never abate, will never depart. Angels, principalities, powers cannot do it either. There is no force in heaven above or on earth below that is more powerful than this love. No, nothing is more powerful than God’s loving embrace. In this love, we are safe. In this love, we are secure. We are surrounded by it. Comforted by it. Covered in it. God’s love is the strongest, steadiest, most substantial, and dependable thing in all creation. It is unrelenting. Unyielding. Immovable.
So writes Alexander Maclaren:
“Sin is mighty, but one thing sin cannot do, and that is to make Christ cease to love us. Sin is mighty, but one other thing sin cannot do, and that is to prevent Christ from manifesting His love to us sinners, that we may learn to love and so may cease to sin. Christ’s love is not at the beck and call of our fluctuating affections. It has its source deeper than in the springs in our hearts, namely in the depths of His own nature. It is not the echo or the answer to ours, but ours is the echo to His; and that being so, our changes do not reach to it, any more than earth’s seasons affect the sun. Forever and ever He loves. Whilst we forget Him, He remembers us. Whilst repay Him with neglect or with hate, He still loves. If we believe not, He still abides faithful to His merciful purpose, and, in spite of all that we can do, will not deny Himself, by ceasing to be the incarnate Patience, the perfect Love."(1)
What’s more, the separation of death will be undone by this same love of God in Christ. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ “tasted death for everyone . . . so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.” (Heb. 2:9, 14–15) We are told elsewhere Jesus Christ has “abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Tim. 1:10) The love of God in Christ renders sin and death inoperative.
There is a power that is stronger and mightier than the power of separation in death. And that power is the power of God’s love for you and me. A love so powerful it brought God down to earth to take on all of your sin and shame and suffering. What sin and death cannot do is take that away from you.
(1) Alexander Maclaren, The Gospel According to St. Mark: Chapters IX to XVI (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1906), 291.