Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Little Bed Rest

“They rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”

If we are thinking this verse from Isaiah describes the peace of mind that accompanies righteous living, we need to look a little closer at the context. He’s not talking about the proverbial “sleep of the just”. The “rest” Isaiah has in view is of the rather-more-permanent variety.

There are lots of ways to exit this world, but departing quietly in one’s sleep has got to be among the best. There are nobler ways to go, sure, but they tend to come with their share of heart palpitations.

Taken Away from Calamity

Like many Christians who have walked with the Lord for a number of years, I think I can say quite honestly that I don’t fear death. It’s pain I’m not keen on. Some very good men and women have shuffled off this mortal coil in terrible, terrible ways. I am not too proud to tell you I have no particular desire to add to their number.

And sometimes the Lord accommodates people like me. I seem to recall reading somewhere that he does not allow us to be tested beyond what we can bear. That’s something to be thankful for.

The full context of our verse follows, from the beginning of Isaiah 57:
“The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”
Anticipating the judgment of God on the nation of Judah, Isaiah reminds God’s straying people that sometimes the folks who are taken home early are actually getting a sweet deal. Far from being punished for their choices in life, they are the recipients of exceptional divine favor.

Crowding the Exits

For me, 2020 and 2021 to date have been funeral after memorial after celebration of life, most attended remotely or put off until the present restrictions on assembling are lifted. Some of these departures were predictable and anticipated, others definitely were not. Interestingly, not one has been COVID-related. The three people I know who have had the virus, all older or health-compromised in some way, rebounded just fine.

Now, the plural of anecdote is not data, and this sudden mass exodus could simply be coincidental. After all, I’m getting to the time of life when those I know best from the previous generation are well into their seventies and eighties, and a certain regularity of attrition is to be expected. Still, a number from my own generation have begun to exit in what are generally referred to as “untimely” ways. Regardless, it’s a lot of friends, family members, acquaintances and loved ones in such a short period of time — the vast majority believers — and I’m almost starting to wonder if the principle Isaiah lays down here may be in play.

Grace at the Worst Times

It’s not such a crazy idea, is it? That when bad times are on the way, the Lord might take some of his most faithful servants home prior to the chaos as a reward for their devotion. When any society starts to come unglued, the elderly are frequently first to take the hit. And “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” The circumstances of our passage from this world to the next are a matter of deep concern to our God, who is present when every sparrow falls to the ground. And as the Lord assured his disciples (I like to think with tongue somewhat in cheek), “You are of more value than many sparrows.”

The one who wept at the tomb of Lazarus is present at the bedside of each of his beloved servants, unseen but unmistakably in attendance. It should not surprise us when he is especially gracious in what can often be the hardest moments of life. It should definitely not surprise those of us who believe we will be called to meet the Lord Jesus in the air to find that he often spares the righteous from living through times of calamity. That actually makes perfect sense to me.

... While No One Understands

It also makes a great deal of sense to me that the living rarely see catastrophe coming, even when we observe the aforementioned phenomenon around us. “Devout men are taken away, while no one understands.” We tend to miss the signs. Despite sharing a worldview that definitely allows for the possibility of abrupt changes in the fortunes of individuals, nations and the world, many Christians are closet uniformitarians. Sure, big events happen all the time ... just not to me. Especially when we are generally healthy, it is hard for us to imagine we could be next in line, and that an “early” exit might even be a form of blessing rather than judgment.

Is it better to be paranoid than oblivious? You tell me. There are times and seasons to history, and if indeed something wicked this way comes, getting caught napping is not a good look.

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