Living (and Dying) in Hope

The young oak tree’s slender branches flitted in the late autumn wind. A few dead leaves held on for dear life against the merciless onslaught, but they, too, would surely succumb before the first snow. It had been exquisite just months before—the beneficiary of spring’s endowment of life and green. But that was then. And now, on the brink of Queen Winter’s coronation, naked, lifeless branches were all that were left of the tree’s prior glory. Beholding such a tragic scene, it hit me: This was no accident. By design, the Almighty had let this young tree die.

His out-turned thumb upraised, a man ravaged by cancer posed for what would be one of the last pictures ever taken of him. His gentle smile hid well the blows that life’s autumn wind had been dealing him. He had been so energetic and full of life just months before. But that was then. And now, at the end of his arduous journey, only a shell of the man he had been remained. When he finally closed his eyes for the last time, it was clear that this was no fluke of chance. By design, the good and gracious Father on high had let this beloved man die.

Another man’s blood-soaked hair began to harden in the frigid air of a darkened sky. His out-stretched and out-of-socket arms had slumped in a very unnatural fashion—as had his whole body—and it appeared he might tumble off the beams of his execution at any moment. He had been a regal herald of life and love just months before. But that was then. And now, the victim of an insidious plot, what was left of his scourged and hated body hung exposed as an example to all of what one earns as a rebel against Caesar and as an outsider to man-centered religion. Viewing this ghastly scene some 2,000 years later, it’s striking: This was no mere happenstance. By design, the merciful and just Guard and Guardian of all creation watched as he let his dear Son die.

Wintering trees and dying men suddenly take on new meaning in light of the death of the Son of God. God didn’t merely let his Son die. He let his Son die in hope that his death would result in the rescue of many. He doesn’t merely let trees lose all their leaves and expire each fall. He lets them die in hope of the coming spring. And God doesn’t merely let his deeply-loved creations weaken and fail physically. He lets them die in hope that their last breath here will mark their first in his presence.

This life is a hallway, and death is the door at its end that our good God lets his beloved children pass through on their way to something better. He himself is that something better. We can have the hope that come cold, cancer, or crucifixion, there is a good design in it, and an amazing hope awaits us just beyond it. You can have this hope today. “God is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Gary Fiscus, a long-time music educator, passed away on Friday, September 7, 2012 after a long battle with cancer.

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