Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, November 3, 2019
Shavuah Tov *|FNAME|*,
Many thanks to our good friend, Raymond Finney, for yet another excellent RR contribution. Grab a cup of coffee, recline in your easy chair, and enjoy.
Born to Live; Born to Die – My Son, Ray; God’s Son, Yeshua
INTRODUCTION: I write today’s RR possibly for my own personal benefit, but you are welcome to read it.
I write a few comments about the birth and death of a son. My son– my namesake, Raymond A. Finney, III – was born on March 6, 1964 and died on November 4, 2018. My mind wanders to his birth and death, as my wife, Linda, and I remember the first anniversary of his premature, unexpected death. But first, I wish to make two points clear:
>> (1) WE ALL DEAL WITH DEATH: Probably everyone reading this has experienced the death of loved ones. Death is the common denominator for all persons (Hebrews 9:27): And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,…. Linda and I are not unique. The sorrow and grief we experienced in Ray’s death mirrors the sorrow and grief most of you have experienced. I only write of his death to make certain points about life and death.
>> (2) NO COMPARISON INTENDED: I write as a father who lost a son. I write of this father’s loss of a son and Father God’s loss of His Son. In no way– no way! – do I equate myself to Father God or my son to Yeshua. Only a father-son relationship is compared and contrasted.
BACKGROUND– MY SON, A GOOD LIFE: Ray, the second of our four children, was born to Linda and me while I was still in school. Linda and I were too young and far too poor to have a family, but God blessed us any way. As we approach our fifty-eighth year of marriage (in December) and have morally upright children and grandchildren, we are truly blessed.
We never pushed our children to achieve certain status markers in life. What they accomplished in life was their own choosing, free of our interference. We only desired that they be good people. In this regard, all of our children and grandchildren have more than met our desires for them.
Ray was born in Memphis, less than two weeks before my graduation from medical school. We did not have a crib for him, as my firstborn daughter slept in the little crib given to us for her. Ray’s first crib was a cardboard box from the local grocery store in which we placed a pillow. I now shudder at our naivete in placing a newborn baby in such a potentially dangerous “crib,” but we all gain wisdom as we age.
Ray, a happy child, grew into a good man. He married Genia in 2001. He suffered from chronic asthma and should have taken better care of himself (better diet, more exercise), but we know of no other pressing medical condition.
BACKGROUND– THE DEATH OF MY SON, A LIFE ENDED TOO SOON: At 3:00 am on November 4, 2018, the telephone rang. I answered, fearing bad news. An early morning caller is not expected to bear good news. Making this call was a crying daughter-in-law. She found Ray, lying dead on the floor. Nothing that day had suggested his death was imminent.
Linda and I were stunned. We had just received news most dreaded by any parent– the death of a child or grandchild. I am older than my wife and, of course, older than my children. The natural order of things is that I should die first. I am selfish enough to wish that my death would have occurred first, in order that I would be spared the sorrow of burying a wife, child, or grandchild. Unfortunately for me, a loved one preceded me in death.
Linda was the more philosophical and theological one in our marriage. She immediately affirmed her belief that Ray was in Paradise, merely stating, “He is now in a better place.” We both hope that he is in Paradise at this moment (probably looking for a television to watch the Big Orange play). We both hope to meet him there some glorious day.
I quietly went through the well-described phases of grief. Reverting to the horrible days I spent as a junior house officer in training, I conducted my own Death Conference. Thoughts flooded my mind about what I could have done– what I should have done– to stall Ray’s death. I knew I was not responsible for his death, but….
BACKGROUND– GOD SPOKE TO ME THROUGH THE BIBLE: The Scripture passage that comforted me most came from 2 Samuel 12:16-23. I have attended many funerals, but I have seldom heard this passage read. David and Bathsheba had a son. For days, the little baby barely clung to life. During this time, David was inconsolable, fasting and praying without ceasing. The baby died. David, sensing a change in the palace servants’ demeanor, asked if the baby had died. His worst fear was confirmed.
David, then, asked for fresh clothes, bathing supplies, anointing materials, and food. The servants’ confusion and David’s answer should be solace for all of us (2 Samuel 12:21-23): Then [David’s] servants said to [David], “What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” And [David] said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
Yes, I hope I shall go to loved ones in Paradise (later, Heaven), even though I know I shall never see them again on earth. I join the Apostle Paul in his faith and hope (Titus 2:13): … looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior [Yeshua HaMashiach],…. Yes, Paul, Yeshua truly is our Blessed Hope!
My grief was eased by David’s hope of resurrection and an afterlife (again, 2 Samuel 12:23b): “… Can I bring [my son] back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
PURPOSE FOR BIRTH OF A SON:
>> My son: I remember the pride Linda and I had with the new addition to our family. Ray was perfect in every way, as had been our first child, Debbie, and our other two children who followed Ray. We loved/ love all four children. Either Linda or I would readily give our life to save any one of them. I wished a long, healthy life for all of my children. My desire was that Ray was born to live to old age. I never once considered that he was born to die.
>> God’s Son: God had a Divine plan for the birth of Yeshua. Quite different from my plan, God’s plan was that Yeshua must die a bloody, tortured death. Yeshua certainly came as Prince, Prophet, and Priest. He came as HaMashiach– the Messiah, the Anointed One (of God). The Old Testament is HaMashiach’s life foretold, and the New Testament is HaMashiach’s life revealed. Yeshua’s teachings form the basis of our New Covenant faith. No Person has so altered world history as Yeshua.
** His very name, Yeshua (contracted from the Hebrew Yehoshu’a = English Joshua), means “Deliverer” or “Rescuer.” New Testament authors clearly teach that mankind is saved from sins (eternal death) through simple faith in Yeshua. See multiple verses about being saved by faith in Yeshua at https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Saved-By-Faith . Probably the best known verse is John 3:16: [Yeshua said] “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
** How interesting it is that Yeshua has changed billions of lives, but we know so little about Him. We even celebrate His birthday on the wrong date (December 25). This date was “borrowed” from a pagan holiday and assigned as Yeshua’s birthday.
PURPOSE FOR THE DEATH OF A SON:
>> My son: I do not know what purpose Ray’s death was meant to accomplish. The Apostle Paul wrote several times about “mysteries” of God. A Bible mystery is the hidden will of God, which may or may not be revealed to mankind in God’s time and for His purpose. I will never know why people die when they do. In my ignorance, I accept Romans 8:28a: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God,…. Perhaps, Ray’s early death was meant for good, even though I do not know why.
>> God’s Son: Yeshua was born to live and teach a short while, certainly, but the main purpose of His short life lies in His death and resurrection.
** As glorious as was the birth and life of Yeshua, both Father God and He knew the real purpose for His life was death. Yeshua was in great distress, as He prayed in Gethsemane just a few hours before His crucifixion. He prayed three times. We are not told why He prayed this number of prayers, but some suggest that He prayed for the three divisions (parts) of mankind– body, mind, and spirit. In each prayer, it is suggested, He felt the bodily, the mental/ emotional, and the spiritual afflictions of mankind, and how His death would be the Savior of these afflictions. After the Gethsemane prayers, Yeshua went to His death willingly and quietly, as prophesied (Isaiah 53:7): [HaMashiach] was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.
Several Scriptural examples teach the necessity of sacrifice by the shedding of blood for sin, including:
** The earliest passage is written in Genesis 4:3-8. Cain, a farmer, brought field products to offer as sacrifice to the LORD, but this sacrifice was rejected. Cain’s brother, Abel, a herdsman, brought the firstborn of his flock (which would have required killing and shedding of blood) to offer as a sacrifice to the LORD, and his sacrifice was accepted. Cain’s jealousy caused him to kill Abel.
** For many centuries, the Israelites/ Jews sacrificed innumerable animals to the LORD, all of which were killed and resulted in the shedding of blood.
** Yeshua’s first miracle was the wedding at Cana of Galilee (Luke 2:1-10). Here, He changed water (symbolic of Old Covenant worship) into wine (symbolic of New Covenant worship). Yeshua foretold His coming Passion and crucifixion in which His blood would be shed. [“Passion,” with capital “P” = the sufferings of Yeshua between the night of the Passover Seder– the “Last Supper” – and His death on the cross.] Yeshua commanded us to eat the bread, symbolic of His broken body, and drink the fruit of the vine, symbolic of His shed blood, at Communion (Matthew 26:26-28).
** We are told that there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22b): … without shedding of blood there is no remission [of sin]. We no longer sacrifice animals for forgiveness of sin, but we accept, through faith, the one-time sacrifice of Yeshua, our Passover Lamb, for forgiveness (Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:1-18).
Yeshua, as Son of Man, experienced the same emotions we have, a few examples including:
** It was prophesied that HaMashiach (Yeshua) would experience great sorrows in His life (Isaiah 53:3a): [HaMashiach] is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief….
** Yeshua apparently questioned His success, when He lamented (Matthew 22:37): “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”
** I find Yeshua’s prayer that His followers be one with the Godhead, as are God the Father and the Son One (John, chapter 17), to be most touching. What sad event that day prompted such a lonely, despair-filled prayer?
** Yeshua prayed in great anguish– “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death”– in the Garden of Gethsemane a few hours before His crucifixion (Matthew 26:36-46).
** Later, Yeshua realized after His prayer vigil in Gethsemane and during His crucifixion that He had fulfilled the mission Father God gave Him (John 19:30): So when [Yeshua] had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
What was finished? Not His life (He surely knew of resurrection and eternal life), but He had finished His mission. In the original text, the Greek phrase “Tetelestai” is used. “Tetelestai” has a richer meaning than our English translation of “It is finished.” Tetelestai, a phrase Middle Eastern merchants used to cancel bills, literally means, “Paid in full.” Yeshua’s death paid in full measure any debt owed by any Believer’s sins. I believe that Yeshua finally realized at that point that His life was victorious and that He had successfully fulfilled His earthly mission.
** Yeshua, our Passover Lamb, shed blood during His Passion (flogging, etc.) and crucifixion (nails, crown of thorns, spear). Even knowing His mission was to die a bloody death for mankind, Yeshua felt abandoned on the cross (Matthew 27:46): And about the ninth hour [Yeshua] cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” [Interesting comparison: “Ninth hour” = 3:00 pm. The priest in charge of the Passover sacrifices would act and say the same as our Heavenly High Priest, Yeshua. At about the ninth hour, Passover sacrifices ended. The Jewish priest would make the outline of the Hebrew letter shin with his hands. Shin is the “sh” sound in Shaddai (from El Shaddai = God Almighty). He announced, “It (the ritual of Passover sacrifices) is finished.” Our High Priest, Yeshua, and a nameless Jewish high priest acted in concert, as our Passover Lamb, Yeshua, and a little lamb were sacrificed at the same time.]
A FATHER’S SORROW IN THE DEATH OF A SON:
>> My son: I have already discussed some of my sorrow in Ray’s death. I add another sorrow:
** When my children were younger, I, by necessity, worked long hours at a demanding, stressful job. When I made it home late in the afternoon or early evening, I was physically and emotionally drained. I wish I had more time to spend with my children– fishing, throwing a football, listening to them, and so forth. I do not regret giving my best effort to my job (that was what I was called to do), but I deeply regret that I may not have given best effort at being a father. Since Ray’s death, I have mentally played many times how I should have been a better father. Hindsight is always perfect, but it is now too late to do a better job of being daddy. Many parents regret not spending enough time with their families. Probably no one will ever lie on a deathbed, saying, “I wish I had spent more time (working on Facebook), (playing golf), (– fill in the blank –) .” A dying person, however, may say, “I wish I had spent more time with my (parents), (spouse), (children), (– fill in the blank –).”
>> God’s Son: God showed restrained, but definite sorrow at the Passion and crucifixion of Yeshua, including:
** Yeshua came as the Light of the world (John 8:12 and John 12:44-46). As Yeshua writhed in agony on Golgotha’s cross, an unnatural (supernatural) darkness covered the land. God surely caused the sun to withhold its light, as the Light of Yeshua was taken from the world (Matthew 27:45-54). There are several ancient references other than the New Testament which document this darkness, including such non-Christian historians and authors as Thallus, Phlegon, Tertullian, Rufinus, and Julius Africanus. Since Yeshua was crucified in the Passover season, celestial alignments (and also the three-hour length of darkness) exclude the possibility of a solar eclipse. Amos’ prophecy was fulfilled (Amos 8:9-10): “And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord GOD, “that I will make the sun go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in broad daylight; … I will make it like mourning for an only son,….”
** God tore the massive Temple veil in two, symbolizing that He would never isolate Himself in a Temple (Matthew 27:51), but would live in each person’s body (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19).
** A great earthquake and opening of graves occurred (Matthew 27:51-53). Earthquakes often accompany messages from God. The message, I believe, was that the long-promised HaMashiach had come, but most people refused to accept Him. This message would not play out completely for another generation (AD 70), when the Roman army destroyed the Second Temple/ Jerusalem and Jews were exiled to Rome and, later, the world (the Diaspora).
A WEEKLY REMINDER: Every Shabbat as I drive to Shomair Yisrael services, I am reminded of Ray’s death. From Shomair’s parking lot, I see the church– Riverview Baptist Church– in which he married Genia and in which his funeral service was held. In my mind’s eye, I see his stilled body, as it lay in a casket. I think of his earthly body buried in Asbury Cemetery just a few miles away. Then, entering the Shomair Yisrael Synagogue, I am reminded of El Shaddai, God Almighty, who has promised to grant eternal life to Believers. Thus, I am reminded every Shabbat of the cycle of Ray’s life– of every life– from birth to death, and the Believer’s blessed hope of eternal life.
I remind myself, as I remind you, of life’s fleeting nature (Jacob [James] 4:14b): … For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. And (Isaiah 40:6b-8): … “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”
Many (all?) of us, including myself, do not adequately prioritize our lives. We waste too much time with trivial activities, when we should be doing things with and for others, including our families. Life, even a far too brief life, is truly a gift from God. Life is immeasurably enriched by Yeshua, who said (John 10:10b): “… I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
My favorite play is “Our Town,” written in 1938 by Thornton Wilder. If you ever get to see “Our Town” as a theatrical production, as Wilder intended (almost no props on stage), be sure to see it. (The movie version has been shamefully ruined by Hollywood.) In Act 3 of the stage play, Emily dies and is buried in Grover’s Corners’ cemetery. Wilder is a brilliant playwright. He captures the brevity of life and how much we should miss it, when we are gone. Hint: If you see this play, take Kleenex with you.
SOME GIVEN A PREVIEW OF ETERNITY? If we love our brief life on earth this much, how much more will we love our eternal life in Heaven? Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 64:4): Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. The Apostle Paul, who experienced a near-death experience (NDE) after being stoned and left for dead in Lystra and who glimpsed Paradise, confirmed Isaiah’s assessment (1 Corinthians 2:9).
I have personally talked to several people who have experienced a NDE. (Most persons who have experienced a NDE are reluctant to talk to others about it, fearing ridicule.) Most persons with whom I have discussed their NDE have described Paradise in glowing terms. Exception: One man, who attended church with me, admitted he was a Blount County alcoholic and hellraiser. He was terribly injured in a DUI traffic accident. He “died” in Blount Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room, but was resuscitated. He is certain he saw Hell. He vividly described to me the flames, sulfurous smell, screams, and other horrors of that place. He accepted Yeshua as Savior in the hospital. The first thing he sought after hospital discharge was a church to join. He never drank alcohol again. He may have never missed a service after that time, and there was never a more faithful follower and lover of Yeshua! His NDE literally “scared the hell out of him.”
To grieve a loved one’s death is both natural and beneficial, but God can heal a grieving heart (Psalm 30:5b): … Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Yeshua stands ready to bear some of your sorrow (Matthew 11:28-30): [Yeshua said] “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” [“Labor,” v. 28, is derived from Greek kopos = growing weary, tired, or exhausted (from toil, burdens, or grief).]
To Ray and others who have preceded me in death, I will see you soon. Ray, if you can hear us in Paradise, mama and I– and the rest of your family– send our love. NOTE: It may not be entirely ludicrous to think of loved ones hearing us (in the spirit?) after death. I understand I do not know about many, many more things than I actually know about. Recall Yeshua’s Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). Lazarus, in “Abraham’s bosom” (Paradise), and the rich man, in Hades, were conscious of events of the living and wished to speak to them. (Is this parable allegory or reality?) Shalom and Maranatha.
COMING: In the RR for next Sunday (November 10), I will discuss the stages of grief following loss, as well as some Biblical resources for grief. Someone may be helped by better understanding grief.
Father: Thank you for life. Thank you for family and others whom we love. Life seems too short, and we often waste what life You have given us. Perhaps, that is why you have given us the option of accepting, through Your grace and Yeshua’s sacrificial death, eternal life in Heaven.
Eternity may not be long enough to experience the many wonders waiting for us! We petition You, through the Ruach HaKodesh, to touch any person who is grieving the death of a loved one and heal that person through the blood of Yeshua’s sacrificial death. We long for that Glorious Day, when we enter Your presence. Until that Day, may we serve You with gladness and be content with the Blessed Hope of eternal life, as promised in your Word. Your Promise is enough for now. Amen.