My grandmother passed away when I was fifteen. My father asked if I would go with him to her home to say goodbye. The two of us walked into her room, after a quiet ride in the car, and there was my beloved grandmother in her bed. My father grabbed her hands and kissed them, then kneeled down and kissed her forehead. Tears soaked his face… and mine. I could see that it was my grandmother who was lying in that bed, but she didn’t look like my grandma anymore. She was gone. What was left was a body without a spirit… resembling the crumpled up clothes I had thrown on the floor before bed, rather then the woman who baked pies and cookies and brushed my hair after a bath.
At fifteen, something profound touched my heart. I realized that our bodies are only a cover, like clothes, that contain our spirit. Without our spirit, the body is void.
I am no longer a fifteen year old girl, but a woman, grown, with the marks of age, the lines and scars to prove I have lived, endured, been wounded and healed. My father is still with us in body, but so much of his spirit has already left. And so I ask, what is the purpose of life and death?
As a mother I hold my babies, feed and clean them, watch them grow and teach them. Every step is a step away from my care and to independence. Even in my own life, so much of it has been filled with lessons learned, many the hard way, but now beautiful revelations of truth and wisdom.
So, what is it all for, I ask God? Why, do we start as infants, dependent on care, grow and learn, walk through trials, feel love, and know loss; all to get old and become dependent once again? Why also does death knock at the door of my parents after they have walked through life, been softened by experience, become so knowledgeable of the mysteries of love, and so full of depth in faith and Word… why does death knock now when they have so much knowledge to share and experience to teach?
And my biggest question… why do so many suffer? Why do parents have to lose children; why do children face tragedy, sickness, poverty and evil?
What is it all for?
We know that not one of us will escape death. Death has not been erased. This never changed, but because of the cross, death has lost its sting.
Death is the end to our body, our flesh, and our earthly life. But let us consider this, our body is what holds us here, it contains us. But what if when our body dies, it is then our spirit is set free? What if we are not just humans having a spiritual experience… but actually spirits having a human experience.
In the very first book of the Bible-Genesis, it states that “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7 NKJV)
This is incredible if you look closer at the difference described in how God created humans from the rest of creation. The Bible states that God “spoke” all creation into existence, every planet, rock, the sun and moon, every creature on land, in the sea and in the air. He “spoke” and they “became”. Yet with His own hands He formed you and me, and with His breath He breathed into our very essence.
Then in the same first book of the Bible it also states that “God created man in His own image; He created him; male and female…” (Gen 1:27 NKJV)
What does this mean? Do we look like Him?
Each one of us holds within a gift, unique and specific to us. That gift is a divine character trait of God. It is His very fingerprint that rests on us, as a clear connection of the Creators image that links us to Him. Are we to believe that it is our bodies that resemble God, or could it be the very breath of God, the Spirit that whispers His Name to our hearts within us that is that image of God described?
But if our bodies stay and our spirits leave, where do our spirits go? …This is the best part.
Since we have peeked into the first book of the Bible to learn about how we came into being, let’s now peek into the last book of the Bible, Revelations, to see where we are going in the end.
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9 NKJV)
This picture of a great multitude is such a powerful image. A multitude which no one can count… every tribe, tongue, clothed in white robes. Can you imagine this day, our brothers and sisters of every nation, every race, every language? And even more powerful, it doesn’t say some nations, some tribes, some tongues… no it says “all”! “All” nations, “all” tribes, “all” peoples, and “all” tongues will stand before the throne, before the Lamb and will be clothed in “white robes.”
Revelations explains more about this great multitude:
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:13-17 NKJV)
How beautiful is this knowledge. We will stand before a good Father, a mighty God, who will lean down and with His hand, He will wipe “every” tear from our eyes.
Today, the world is filled with suffering, hunger, and thirst. My heart grieves for nations and people. I ask God to intervene, to help- as we all cry out, “God where are you?”
Yet God does respond to those who suffer. In chapter 2 of Revelations God speaks to the “Church of Smyrna”. Smyrna represents so many around the world, because it’s very name means suffering. It was a city known for its great poverty, but also tragedy- many of its people were martyred. The atrocities they endured because of their faith were truly horrific. But God Himself speaks to them in this last book of the Bible. His first Words to them are that He knows their works, their tribulation and suffering. He tells them that although they may be poor, He calls them rich. God promises that though they remain faithful unto death, He will give them the “crown of life”.
And what are these robes? I always envisioned that this robe described was a cloak that was dirty but made white, symbolic of its color and simplicity. This image was beautiful to me, but I have learned that the translation of robe is remnant and the word signifies a formal robe, one that is ornate and adorned. It is one worn and equal to that of kings and queens. This is the robe that will be placed over your shoulders. This is the robe that was adorned on the shoulders of my grandmother as she stood before the throne, as God Himself wiped every tear from her face.
Every struggle, every tear, every lesson, every mistake-made right, is part of that crown that He will place on our heads. Those that suffer will be rewarded. Those that hunger will be filled. God knows our works, He hears our prayers, He feels our tears.
Apostle Paul, a man who too suffered greatly, targeted for his testimony, imprisoned several times and finally executed by beheading wrote this:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-28 NKJV)
Some leave us too early. A life taken before they really had a chance. Yet God tells us that they are with Him, in His embrace, held tightly to His chest:
“He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom” (Isaiah 40:11 NKJV) and although our arms ache to hold them, I promise there will be a day we will embrace again and our tears, every tear, will be wiped away.
For those who have lost someone they love, know this, your loved one is no longer contained, their spirit has been set free. God has placed a formal robe around their neck and He will lead them to living fountains of waters.
This is what it is all for.
Our true identity, our true beauty, is the breath and image of God within us… Our body is indeed limited but our spirit, that breath of God, the person and character we hold, is not limited to this earthly life.
Today we may have sorrows, trials, battles and afflictions, but remember this is just temporary, every scar I wear is part of the glory ahead, because God has made a place for us, to be with Him, to be washed white and brought to His throne as royalty.
-written by Andrea Casteel Smith, author of Scarred Beautiful