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Sleepless in Alaska

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Darkness is finally falling. It’s 12:47am on June 5th in Alaska. The day has been unusually hot and the heat remains in the house, even though the outside temperature has finally gone below 65 degrees. The opportunity for sleeping has passed me by. It’s just not going to happen tonight. I tried taking a sleep aid and had no relief. None of my efforts are going to get me to where I want to be. Knowing that all those around me are tucked into a restful subconscious that eludes only me makes me feel like I missed a boat that was headed somewhere wonderful and everyone else made it onboard while I look on from the shore. It’s sailing away and I’m not on it.

From this personal experience of insomnia, I wonder what the final “falling asleep” will be like. In I Thessalonians 4:13-14 the apostle Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica: “Brothers (‘and sisters’), we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (referring to death), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him”.

Lately it seems that many people I know are falling asleep for the last time and entering their final “rest”. We refer to graves as the “final resting place” for those we bury. This past January in New Jersey I stood at the graves of all four of my grandparents, my parents, my brother, and a dear friend who was buried along with my family. My dad had purchased 20 spaces for the Hendricks family to be buried together and I could see that they were filling up faster than I had expected.

When the ones you love are laid to rest in the ground you really begin to reflect. Beyond the grief there is the wrestling with deep questions about our beliefs. For me the lens I look through for answers is the Bible. It has been the main resource for me that truly addresses all of life’s real issues…sometimes not directly, but certainly the principles and truths are there…and the answers to my questions can be found.

So in thinking about the afterlife for a Christian believer, I Thessalonians 4 does cover that topic. Even chapter 5 goes into how the Lord will come for us and how we can live with Him forever once this life on earth is over. He lets us know what to expect and how to be prepared for His return. Since everyone has access to a Bible (either in print or online), I’m not going to re-type it all for you here but rather will encourage you to read the scripture for yourself.

When a loved one dies, the initial reaction is often denial. I remember yelling “NO!” when my sister called me at college to tell me that my sweet grandmother had died suddenly. I knew Nana had heart trouble…I had been the only one with her when she experienced her first heart attack 5 months prior. I had called 9-1-1. I had helped her breathe until the ambulance arrived. How could I ever deny that she would someday die when I had thought it was happening right in front of me earlier that year? Well, I guess because it just feels so deeply wrong to lose someone. We were initially created to live forever without interruption, but the Fall of Man ruined eternal life without experiencing death first.

We have eternal souls that connect to other eternal souls. When that precious soul of a loved one leaves us, we feel the wrongness of it in our hearts. When my father suffered so much in his final year of life, I would beg God to have mercy on him and to take him home through death. When he died, at one level I still felt the wrongness of the separation in my soul and struggled to accept the reality of his departure from me, but deeper was a gratefulness that he was no longer suffering. I also had the assurance that I would one day be reunited with him in eternity. That comfort infiltrated the grief and softened the loss. It didn’t remove the pain completely, but it did bring a reassurance that this separation is not forever and that there is goodness beyond the grave for those who are believers in Christ. We do not grieve as those who have no hope of seeing that loved one in eternity. When darkness falls for me one last time and the boat comes to shore for me to sail, I know I will be on it. I won’t miss this one. Instead of an 8-hour rest and recharge, it will be a glorious permanent awakening into the full presence of God. I am certain of my salvation and that I will be reunited with those whom I love that have also identified themselves with Christ and His work on the cross. I will rest physically in the ground, but spiritually I will be with the Lord forever, as it says at the end of first Thessalonians 4.

Psalm 23 also captures this assurance so beautifully: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Not only will I dwell with God forever in eternity, I will also experience His goodness and mercy throughout my days here. Life certainly has its painful moments mixed with many joyful moments, but through it all there is the mercy, goodness, and steadfast love of the Lord until The Day I see Him face to face. I hope you have this same assurance.

In my next article I hope to convey as best as possible what the scripture says about how to find this assurance of salvation. It’s simple, but often people try to make it complicated. Please look for the article next week to hear how you can also be welcomed by the Lord into His presence when you enter into your final rest and how you can experience His goodness and mercy all of your days here on earth.

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