I love the Bible.
It challenges me and inspires me, convicts me and encourages me, grants me peace and offers me hope.
Without it my life wouldn’t be the same.
But during a conversation with a friend the other day, I was forced to come face to face with the limitations of that great gift from God.
We were talking about death and what happens to our loved ones when they die. We weren’t driven by theological speculation, but the need for hope in a very real situation. And I realized that, oddly enough, when it came to this particular subject and the Bible, I had very little hope or peace to offer my friend.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
I’m not saying the Bible doesn’t offer incredible words of hope and peace. It does. And I’m not saying the Bible doesn’t talk about life after death in beautiful ways. It does. But when it comes to that one question that haunts all people of faith – What happens to our loved ones when they die? – the Bible says surprisingly little.
Sure, there are those amazing words in Revelation about tears being wiped away in a new heaven and a new earth where suffering and death are no more. It’s one of my favorite passages in all of scripture and one which, ironically, brings tears to my eyes when I read it.
But that passage is about the end of all things, not what happens in the time in between.
Then there are those famous words from Jesus on the cross to the thief at his side about seeing each other in paradise. But it’s there that we see the importance of comma placement – “I tell you the truth today, you will see me in paradise” is a lot different than “I tell you the truth, today you will see me paradise.”
And so we’re still left wondering where our dearly departed ones have actually departed to.
Personally, I tend to follow Paul in the belief that the dead are at rest, a sort of holy slumber from which they will be awoken at the Second Coming. If they’re not, then I have no way of making sense of the dead in Christ rising first at the final resurrection, or of the Final Judgement, if our loved ones are already in heaven.
But all of that is just theological speculation and when it crosses your lips when it matters most, you’re confronted with just how cold that speculation sounds to the grieving.
So, I found myself looking outside the Bible to offer hope and peace to my friend. I found myself turning to one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies in which the screenwriters had the courage or maybe the desperation to stand in the silence where the Bible does not speak.
In The Return of the King, in a scene written for the movie with words borrowed the book, Gandalf and Pippen find themselves waiting on a war to begin and with it, they assume, their imminent death.
PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn’t so bad.
GANDALF: No. No, it isn’t.”
There’s no biblical reference in there or theological precision or promise that this is exactly what is going to happen when we die.
It’s simply the poetry of hope.
It’s also, I believe, the work of the Spirit moving in ways and places we do not expect to bring us the hope and peace only God can provide.
In my tradition we like to talk a lot about prevenient grace. There are lots of technical theological ways of talking about it, but I (and many others) like describing it something like this – prevenient grace is God working in the world to draw us closer to God before we act, regardless of what we do, and often in ways and places we never expected.
I think the same can be said of hope and peace.
I believe the Spirit of God cannot be contained by the pages of the Bible. I believe the Spirit is blowing through the world out of our control, seeking out every avenue and every opportunity to offer prevenient hope and prevenient peace to every corner of creation before we ask, regardless of what we’ve done, and often in ways and places we never expected, but at times when we desperately needed it.
We might find hope in a work of art that moves our spirit into imagining a more beautiful world.
Or peace in a quite walk through the woods.
We might find hope in a song that stirs our soul into believing things are going to get better.
Or peace in a hot cup of tea and a good book.
We might find hope in the unexpected kindness of strangers that reminds us that the kingdom of God may be around every corner if we just know where to look.
Or peace in a good meal shared with even better friends.
This is hope outside the Bible, but not hope outside of God.
It’s peace beyond the pages of a holy book, but not peace beyond the Holy Spirit.
And that’s what makes it hope worth believing in.
Peace worth seeking.
And God worth worshipping.
Grace and Peace,
These are just a few places where I find God’s prevenient hope and peace. Where do you find it in your own life? Let me know in the comments.