I’ve been thinking a lot about a former student I lost this past weekend and her life, and my mind keeps going back to that day a year or so ago when she was baptized. On that day, I saw Skylar, an already beautiful young lady with a countenance obviously transformed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I can only imagine her radiance now, as she stands holy and glorified in her Father’s presence. Thinking about that day, her proud daddy in the water with her, her testimony, reminds me of a couple of things about life, death, and baptism, as just a few of the many, many ways that her life had meaning to me and to so many others.
First, I’m reminded of God’s sovereignty. We always act as if someone’s life is cut short when they die at 22 or 23, as if 85 years is some kind of birthright for us. The same sovereign God in whom we “live and move and have our being,” the sovereign Hand that keeps us alive by telling our hearts, “beat, beat, beat,” knows exactly that day, that hour when He’s going to stop. He knew it was going to be 96 years for my grandmom, and 22 for Skylar. From an eternal perspective, when our earthly lives are just a scratch on an endless thread compared to our eternal ones, whether one of us has a scratch that’s one micro-millimeter wider than somebody else’s doesn’t much matter. Yet, at the same time, they all matter tremendously in the context of eternity. My life is richer because I knew her; everyone who knew her had a richer life because of it. That’s because we were made, in part, for each other.
In God’s sovereignty, He also knows how our end is going to come. Death is unnatural, not as God created or intended, brought about by man’s sin and the consequence of a fallen world. Disease is unnatural, too, whether it’s heart disease, or cancer, or diabetes, or depression. They are all horrible results of this broken, distorted world we live in, and they are all potentially-fatal diseases–one ought not be more embarrassing or unspoken than another, simply because we understand some better than others. They are to be mourned, grieved, lamented, and, ultimately, rejoiced over that God has conquered all of them through His Son’s death and the redemption and ultimate restoration of all Creation. God knows the vehicle of our deaths: He knows that it would be a brain tumor for Olivia Nolley, stomach cancer for my friend Reich, and depression for my 20 year old cousin and for Skylar.
One great thing about her baptism is that, looking back on it now, it is obvious that God knew her days were drawing near. In His sovereignty and goodness, He made absolutely sure that her heart would be ready. Her involvement in wonderful churches here and in college, those spiritual experiences that led to her baptism, even the kindling laid at her feet, all of the lessons learned and relationships made at Grace over the years–all of that was to get her ready, knowing that her time had come. None of it was wasted, not less useful because her life was shorter than others. She needed it here, so she could share it with us, and she’ll need all of that in the New Jerusalem, as we live and work and play and worship together forever.
The way she died, the suddenness, the way that it is so different from the way we normally expect things to go, is cause for profound sadness, for deep mourning. These things ought not be; parents ought not have to bury their children, beautiful girls who love Jesus ought to be able to marry handsome boys who do, too, and raise beautiful children who are children of the promise. I look at this whole thing with a daddy’s heart, and it’s almost overwhelming to me. Even in the depths of that profound and almost abysmal sadness, however, there is goodness. Because, in my little comfortable American shell, I need to be shaken up from time to time and reminded that this is not my home. I can’t get too comfortable here. This place, with all its comforts, is pretty terrible, too. But, thanks to Jesus, we have a home to go to, and this place will be as bad as it ever gets for us. She helped remind me of that, too.
Finally, I was reflecting on baptism itself. In addition to sealing us, identifying us with Christ, and serving as a public proclamation of faith, baptism is a tremendous encouragement to those of us who are left behind. Whether it is my own children, octogenarian Will Hadden being baptized by his son, Sandy, himself sealed by baptism, both now together in Heaven, or sweet Skylar, this amazing act serves as a spiritual marker than brings wondrous comfort and healing and hope after those we love are gone. It reminds us that there was a day once where they stood before us all and said, “I am His, so don’t worry. Whatever happens, one day, you and I and all of us will be together forever.” That blessing, that common, shared experience of God’s grace in the life of His beloved, is a healing ray of hope in the darkness and pain of grief. Baptism is a sacrament of hope.
That’s how I’m going to remember her, how I’ll always remember her. That image is her great gift, God’s great gift, to me. Standing there, white robes, looking radiant in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. That’s the perfect resonating image, because that’s how she’ll look the next time we see her, except way, way more so.