The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Dealing with Death: Eight Lies that Keep Us Stuck in the Past

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Someone has died and instead of moving on with your life, you’re obsessing.  You’re stuck in the past.  You’re feeling obligated to treat the dead person as if they are still very much a part of your life.  There are many reasons why people choose to respond this way to death, and none of them are good for the soul.  If you’re not ready to leave your stagnating position, then this post is just going to make you mad.  We’re dishing out tough love here, and that means we’re going to blast you with a lot of bluntly stated truths with very little padding in between.  Our purpose in using a tough love approach is to cover a lot of ground in a little space while arming you with a ton of good food for thought. But if you’re not ready to do some deep thinking, then you’re probably going to feel overwhelmed very fast and you’ll want to go off and sulk or send us a snarky message instead of embracing the truths that we’re going to lay out for you. Maturity is something we must choose—it’s not something that can be forced upon us.  The longer we try to avoid it, the more miserable we become.  But once we do reach the point where we are tired of being miserable, then there is great hope to be had.  No matter where you’re stuck, you can move forward by gaining some new perspectives and making some wise soul choices. 

IDENTIFYING THE GOAL

Someone has died.  Maybe it was a friend, or an enemy or a stranger, or a family member.  Whoever it was, God has intentionally caused that person’s death to affect you, and that’s important.  It’s estimated that about 6,000 people are dying around the world every hour, but most of those deaths mean nothing to you.  You don’t know the people, you aren’t aware of their passing, and you simply don’t care.  The only people whose deaths you’re going to have a conscious reaction to are the ones whose life paths are made to intersect with yours.

To understand how this life path stuff works, imagine tossing a pile of cooked spaghetti noodles onto a plate.  Each noodle represents the life path of one human.  Now pick one noodle to focus on and imagine yourself as a tiny little person walking along the length of that noodle.  The end you start at represents your birth, and the other end represents your death.  As you travel along from birth to death, that’s your life in this world passing by. Notice how a lot of other noodles cross yours as you travel along: those are other people who God intentionally brings into your life.  Many of them cross your noodle quickly, but some travel alongside you for a while before veering off in another direction.  It is God who controls how much time you’ll have to interact with the people who He brings into your life, and those times vary widely.  But there’s one theme which you’ll quickly notice, and that is how temporary those interactions are.  It is quite rare for two adults to remain in each other’s lives from birth to death.  Even the best of friends become separated over time and often lose touch altogether.  Great marriages are temporary, and don’t begin until later on in life.  Siblings go their own way, children grow up and leave their parents.  Life is filled with separation, and human relationships are temporary at best.  God wants it this way because He wants you to learn to value Him as the only Constant in your life.  God is the only One who will be with you forever.  He is the only One who knows you completely, and He is the only One who will ever be willing to love you as you actually are.

From God’s perspective, human relationships are tools He uses to draw you closer to Himself. He is supposed to be your end goal: not another human.  To encourage you to align your priorities with His, God puts limits on how closely you can ever bond to another human.  By preventing others from being able to hear your thoughts or see into your soul, He makes it impossible for anyone in this world to fully understand you.  Then He fixes it so that if another human ever did see the real you with all of your depravity and flaws, they would immediately push you away.  It’s not that you’re worse than they are, but we’re all working with such a limited understanding of ourselves, that we’re simply not equipped to accept the complex mess that is someone else.  In human relationships, there is a large factor of secrecy.  There is so much we don’t understand about ourselves, and much of what we do understand we intentionally hide from others.  This is the only way human relationships can work.  Other people simply can’t handle you sitting down and unloading every nasty thought and carnal impulse that rises up within you.  God has not given humans the capacity to fully love or know you, but He easily does both of these things, thus setting Himself apart as the greatest Love you’ll ever know.

Let’s get back to that plate of noodles.  Why does God cause other lives to intersect with your own? To change you. To mature you.  To draw you closer to Himself.  You’re not supposed to just waltz in and out of other lives without being affected by them.  When someone’s death feels significant to you, that’s your cue that there’s an important growth opportunity available.  The goal is not to back out of your current stuck state until you are acting like you were unaffected by what happened.  No, you want to be affected—but in the right ways.  Getting stuck is not the right way.  Getting bogged down in perpetual grief or guilt is not the right way.  When we get stuck in life, it’s because we’re embracing lies instead of truths, and naturally that ends up negatively impacting us. In this post, we’re going to discuss some common lies that cause people to get stalled by death, and then we’re going to help you identify the truths you need to focus on instead.  But before we get into that, we need to get a proper understanding of what death is.

WHAT IS DEATH?

Whenever you find yourself feeling hopeless, burdened, and guilt ridden in life, it’s time to start looking for the lies.  God is a very positive Guy, and when you’re listening to Him, He is going to be speaking hope into your future. If you’re in a mess, He’s going to be showing you the way out of it.  With God, there are always positive steps we can take to improve our situations.  It doesn’t mean that our circumstances will become perfect, but there are always soul choices we can make which will ensure that we spiritually benefit from the trials we’re going through.  Soul peace, joy, and hope all come from focusing on God’s truths, and the more connected we get with His truth, the harder it becomes to hang on to certain delusions.  Death is a fabulous example of this.  Among those who are stalled over death, it is often assumed that interacting with the dead is very possible.  People feel haunted and controlled by the dead watching over them and judging them.  People fear the dead exacting revenge on them, or they view the dead as continuing to foster positive relationships with them.  All of this is complete hooey.  If you’re going to get unstuck, you need to start by gaining a correct understanding of what death is.

Imagine a huge property that is acres upon acres of lush green grass.  Then imagine three different fish ponds, each one with a bunch of fish in them.  The three fish ponds are separated from each other, and since each pond is sunk into the ground, the fish in each pond can’t see anything beyond the pond they live in.  Even if a fish was to leap out of the water for a few seconds, all he’d see was a bunch of grass surrounding his particular pond.  So now we have three ponds spread out over a huge piece of property, and there are fish in each pond who are oblivious to the location and activities happening in the other two ponds.  One pond represents this world you live in, another pond represents Heaven, and another represents Hell.  You and your buddy Dan are currently swimming around in the Earth pond, and things are going along just fine until one day Dan suddenly dies.  But what does it mean to die?  Well, in this metaphor, death is when God comes along with a fish net and scoops your buddy Dan out of the Earth pond.  One minute Dan is right there with you, the next minute he’s whisked away and that’s the last you see of him.  So what happened to Dan?  He’s been transferred by God to a different pond.  He’s still very much alive, but you have no idea where.  Once Dan gets plopped into a whole new pond, he becomes so caught up in his experience of that place, that he forgets all about you.  Dan simply doesn’t care about what you are or aren’t doing.  He has a whole new situation going on and you are out of sight, out of mind.  Dan can’t see you, he can’t talk to you, and he isn’t thinking about you.

So what about you?  Unlike Dan, you haven’t been transferred to a whole new world.  You’re still in the Earth pond, only without your good buddy.  You really miss Dan and you wonder where he ended up. So which pond is Dan in?  There are only two options.  He either ended up in the Heaven pond, or the Hell pond, but you’ll never know which as long as you’re stuck in the Earth pond because there’s just no way to communicate across the ponds.  As far as you are concerned, Dan might as well have been uncreated for all of the connection you no longer have with him.  God has completely severed your tie to that particular soul and there’s not a thing you can do about it.  The best you can do is ask God to help you learn any positive lessons He wants you to glean from your temporary relationship with Dan.  The relationship is over, but God wants you to be positively changed by it.  He had Dan swim into your life on purpose a few years back and His purpose has always been to use your experience of Dan to strengthen your relationship with God.  God always turns your focus onto Himself.  It’s never just about the humans—they’re just a means to an end.

Now clearly you are not a fish, but our pond metaphor is good for demonstrating how all communication between you and Dan has been completely severed just by God transferring Dan to a different location. This is how it works in real life: what humans call death is simply the moment that God pulls a soul out of its earthsuit and transfers that soul into an entirely different dimension.  When you stand in a cemetery talking to Jane’s gravestone, Jane can’t hear you.  While Jane’s earthsuit is either burned to ash or decomposing somewhere, Jane’s soul is very much alive in either Heaven or Hell.  You don’t know where Jane is, and it doesn’t matter, because Jane couldn’t care less that you exist.  Jane has moved on to the next chapter of her eternal existence, and you are not a part of that chapter at the moment.  Jane doesn’t miss you, she can’t monitor you, and she isn’t hearing anything you say to her.  Once you understand how things really are, you realize what an epic waste of time it is for you to try to talk to Jane, pray to Jane, or do things that you think Jane would approve of.

Death isn’t a case of you sliding over in a church pew to put a little more space between you and another fellow.  Death results in complete and total separation between you and another human soul.  When God kills someone, He severs all ties that you had to that person. When you pretend that those ties still exist, you’re just deluding yourself.  When you start pretending that Mom has morphed into an angel who is now sitting on your shoulder, you’re being utterly ridiculous.  When you imagine your jerk of a father glaring down at you for getting that divorce or that demotion, you’re just torturing yourself without cause.  The dead aren’t judging you.  The dead aren’t watching you, criticizing you, or cheering you on.  The dead are far too caught up in their own challenges to bother with you at all.  Just as you can’t remember most of the people you’ve interacted with in life, and just as you couldn’t care less who you passed on the street ten years ago, the dead couldn’t care less about you.

Once we leave this earthly dimension, earthly relationships lose all meaning for us.  Family units are simply not a concept in eternity.  Your daughter won’t be your daughter in Heaven, she’ll be just another soul. Your uncle won’t be your uncle in Hell, he’ll just be one more soul who is as miserable as you are.  Maybe you’re the guy who accidentally ran over five-year-old Marsha when she was chasing her ball into the street.  Now you’re feeling horrible about robbing Marsha of a happy life, but what does Marsha think? Does Marsha perceive herself as being a little girl who was cheated out of something? No, she doesn’t.  Gender and age are concepts of earth which do not transfer on to eternity.  The soul you knew as Marsha is having all kinds of new adventures in Heaven and you never even cross her mind.  She doesn’t perceive herself as a child or a girl or as someone who was ripped off.  Your view of Marsha is totally tainted by your fixation on earthly concepts which Marsha no longer cares about.  To you, it’s a huge deal that you killed some little kid. To God, Marsha was only ever supposed to spend five years in this world and she died right on schedule.  You didn’t cheat Marsha out of anything—that’s just an absurd deception demons and other humans are pounding you with because they want to keep you stuck in the past.  Well, the fact that Marsha’s parents are making lousy soul choices and refusing to accept God’s will for their lives doesn’t mean you have to let them drag you down with them.  But if you’re going to benefit from your experience of Marsha’s death, you need to be willing to let God correct your view of death and embrace the truths He wants you to focus on.

Now that you understand that death completely severs all connection between you and the souls who died, let’s talk about some common lies that keep people stuck in the past.

LIE #1: SHE WAS A PART OF WHO I WAS.  I CAN NEVER BE COMPLETE WITHOUT HER.

When people talk like this, what they mean is that they felt intensely bonded to someone.  While God wants us to experience a range of attachments in life, when we start talking like another human has actually become a part of us, we’re embracing more deceptions about how things actually work.

Get two pieces of rope and twist them together.  That twist represents the intense bond you felt with the person who died.  Untwist the ropes and throw the dead one away. Now there’s just you left.  Look at yourself.  Are you less of a rope than you were before you got twisted around that other rope?  No.  There’s just as much of you now as there was before.  Certainly getting twisted around that other rope was an intense experience, but when that other person died, they didn’t take part of you with them.  Regardless of what your emotions are telling you, you didn’t really merge with that other human, because that is simply not possible to do.

In our attempt to explain why our grief over losing someone is so intense, we find it much more romantic to say, “She was a part of me,” than to admit that our priorities are totally out of whack.  The only Beings we are inseparably bonded to are the three non-humans who are currently sustaining our existence: Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  We are totally dependent on our Creators for all things, and we literally cannot live without Them.  As a general rule, humans work hard to deny their total dependency on the true Gods, and instead grossly exaggerate their dependency on other created beings.  We talk as if spouses, friends, and children are capable of having the same kind of influence over our survival as our Creators do, and when those people are taken away from us, we end up stuck in an idolatrous mindset of total dependency on humans who we no longer have any contact with.

So what’s the solution here?  Well, first you need to own up to the fact that you are grossly exaggerating your dependency on other humans.  Other humans are not holding your cells together, they are not guiding your every step, and they are incapable of satisfying the needs of your soul.  To view someone as being part of who you are is a denial of reality.  We often turn to denial as a means of dodging certain truths that make us feel threatened.  Your three Creators say that They are the only Ones you are totally dependent on in life.  They also say that They are the Ones you should be focusing on, because Their opinion of you is what defines your worth.

If God cares about the well-being of your soul, how would you expect Him to respond to you trying to replace Him with some created speck?  You see, when you start pretending that another human defines you, you are encroaching on God’s turf.  You’re shoving Him out of a role that only He can fill and pretending that some dot of a human can fill His shoes.  God loves you too much to put up with that kind of rot.  When He severs your connection to humans who you have grown too dependent on, He is actually doing you a huge favor.  He is smashing your idols and urging you to let go of the delusion that the existence of some other human is critical to your identity.  Other humans don’t define you: God does.  Other humans don’t sustain you: God does.  Other humans can’t control your soul choices or shape your destiny.  From the eternal perspective, humans are nothing more than a means to you getting closer to God.  Their value to you can be measured by the degree that interacting with them motivates you to keep pursuing your Creators.  But when they start dragging you backwards, whose fault is that?  Yours, not theirs.  It is your own soul choices that end up derailing you in life.  Other humans can certainly set out to trash you, but God will show you how to spiritually benefit from their malicious intentions if you are serious about pleasing Him.

Life is about God.  Your purpose as a human is to respond well to the Ones who created you.  When you reject the priorities that God tells you to embrace and instead act like fostering certain human relationships is of supreme importance, then is God going to just stand there smiling at your rebellion?  Of course not.  It isn’t cute, romantic or right to sit around moaning that some other human defines you.  It’s idolatrous, delusional, and very insulting to your Creators.  If we’re serious about maturing in life, we need to stop celebrating twerpy attitudes and face the ugly truth about what we’re doing.  When we’re in pain, we want to wallow in it.  It’s not mature, but it’s very human.  And then we want to try and dress our stubborn stagnation in all kinds of pretty excuses as if that will somehow take the wrong out of what we’re doing.  But no, you can tape frilly lace to the outside of your garbage can, but that doesn’t change the putridness of its contents.  Rejecting our true identity as creatures who are only dependent on our Creators to sustain us only lands us in a mess.  Pretending that the dead continue to have enormous sway over who we are and our ability to function is just a self-destructive fantasy which will take us nowhere but down.  If we want to get unstuck, we need to take a hard look at what we’re doing, reject the lies, and start embracing God’s truth.

LIE #2: IT WASN’T HIS TIME TO DIE YET.

All lies are driven by a rejection of truth.  In the first lie we discussed, we were rejecting our absolute dependency on God.  In this second lie, we’re rejecting God’s sovereignty and pretending that He is some incompetent Creator who occasionally drops the ball. You see, you can’t possibly say that someone died too soon or too late without accusing God of biffing it.  Well, God doesn’t biff it. God’s control over life and death is absolute, and all of His dealings with us are strategically planned and perfectly executed.  But while God is doing exactly what He wants to do, you’re standing by heartily disapproving of many of His decisions and playing the part of God’s judge.  When you decide to go into a prolonged huff over the idea that some soul has died prematurely, what you’re really doing is throwing a bratty little tantrum because God is refusing to do things your way.  God killed someone without your approval.  He acted without getting a permission slip from you first.  How brazen of Him.  Who does He think He is, anyway?

Submission is the soul attitude that needs to be focused on here.  As the Creator of all life, God gets to move souls around however He wants. He makes no promise to keep souls in this world for a minimum amount of time before transferring them on.  If we look around us, we find that God is drastically varying the amount of time He allots humans in this world.  God deals with us each as individuals, and He has different plans for each of us which leads to Him treating us all differently.  Some souls never even leave their mother’s wombs before God whisks them away.  Other souls only spend a few years down here while still others stay for many decades.  The next time you’re out in public, look around at the other souls around you and think about how little you know about God’s plans for each of them.  How sobering it would be if God was to display the date of our deaths on our foreheads for all to see.  If He did something like this, we’d be astonished at how wildly the dates would vary.  For all you know, your best friend’s last day could be today, tomorrow, or ten years from now.  But why all the mystery?  Why doesn’t God warn you when someone you care about is about to die?  Because God doesn’t want you focusing on other humans as your all in all.  Be honest: if God were to tell you ahead of time that your child would only live to the age of five, wouldn’t you be more likely to obsess over the kid and view your time with her as far more important than it actually is?  Certainly other humans are to be cherished, but only to a limited degree.  You’re not supposed to be loving other humans anywhere close to the degree to which you love God (see Choosing the Right Priorities: How does God want us to treat our brothers?).  Of course we all start off with backwards priorities, but God slowly introduces us to the perspectives that He wants us to have.

God is the only One we should be viewing as vital, priceless, and irreplaceable.  While we should certainly be respecting other humans as creatures who God places a high value on, at the end of the day, all created beings are expendable.  We shouldn’t be viewing each other as our lifelines, because we’re so not.  All human relationships are temporary at best, and most of the people we meet in this world will end up in Hell, thus eliminating any opportunity to develop positive relationships with them in eternity.  Naturally we resist facing these facts, but ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.  It is God who shapes reality for us, and the reality He’s made for us is one in which He is the only One who can be counted on to stay with us no matter what.  He is the only One who can satisfy our souls, and He is the only One who is capable of taking care of us.  So it is God we need to be depending on, trusting, and submitting to.  When He takes loved ones before we want Him to, we need to focus our energy on respecting His right to do whatever He wants with His own property.

Remember that dealing with death is supposed to change you—but you want to be changed in the right ways, and that means coming through the experience closer to God.  When we hate the decisions God is making, it’s a fabulous opportunity for us to embrace a soul attitude of submission.  It’s also a great chance to practice trusting in His goodness and in His superior wisdom.  Certainly you think that it would have been better for everyone if your loved one had been allowed to stay in this world longer.  But on what are you basing that decision?  You can’t see into the future, you don’t see how many lives your loved one’s life was affecting, and you don’t know what is best for yourself in the long run, let alone anyone else.  Only God can see the whole picture, and only He has the ability to comprehend all of the ramifications of a single action.  The more you contemplate how much wiser God is than you are, the more grateful you will feel that He doesn’t let your personal preferences control His actions (see Practicing Dependency: Appreciating the Wisdom of God).

LIE #3: IT WAS MY FAULT.

You can’t claim responsibility for someone’s death without also claiming to have the power over life and death, which you so don’t have.  So, no, it’s never your fault when someone dies.  The most you can ever be responsible for is rotten motivations.  You can desire to kill someone, and attempt to fulfill those desires, but unless God steps in and does what only God can do, your intended victim will continue to live regardless of what you try to do.

It is your soul choices that God judges you by. There are many professions in which killing other humans is considered a part of the job.  And yet the fact that your country, C.O., supervisor, or partner is telling you that you are justified in killing someone doesn’t make it so.  You answer to God in life, and He is the One you need to be getting clearance from before you set out to murder anyone.  Simply putting on a certain uniform doesn’t excuse you from all moral accountability. And while some Christians try to say that murder is never acceptable, in real life, things are much more complicated than this.  God does authorize some people to kill in certain situations, and when you have clearance from God, you are not going to be in trouble with Him for firing your gun.  But if you’re refusing to sincerely seek authorization from God before you join some military mission or try to gun down some guy who you feel personally threatened by, then you’re going to have a mess on your hands when the bullets stop flying.  Happily for us, God is a gracious Guy who makes repenting out of our rebellion very easy to do. But we certainly don’t want to spend our lives perpetually rebelling, so we need to get a clear understanding of where our responsibility starts and stops in the killing process.  Separating souls from their earthsuits is a power that you just don’t have, and the sooner you stop exaggerating your own abilities, the better off you’ll be.  But your soul choices are important, and what you intended to do is what God is going to hold you accountable for.

Now among folks who cling to this third lie, there is often the belief that their personal negligence was a big factor in causing someone else to die.  This is the soldier who ran and hid when the bullets started flying instead of giving his buddy the cover he needed.  This is the fireman who was too exhausted to pull the burning debris off fast enough. This is the cop who directed a sting that went south and now feels responsible for sending his men into a death trap.  In cases like this, the overwhelming guilt is being driven by an incorrect view of how God judges us.  God never blames you for being uninformed.  It would have been a simple thing for Him to wake you up when the fire started, but He chose not to, so your kid was burned to death in her bed.  Does God blame you for not acting on convictions which He never gave you?  Of course not.

Unlike humans who are crazed with grief and looking for a convenient scapegoat, God understands that there is such a thing as a kid running out in front of your car too fast for you to brake.  God understands that you honestly thought you had unloaded the gun your young son was playing with when he shot himself in the head.  God understands the overwhelming fear of drowning that kept you standing on the shore with a horrified look on your face while your cousin drowned in front of you.  God understands that you just didn’t have the guts to face the shame of turning up pregnant and that you really felt like getting an abortion was your only way out.  God is far more compassionate and merciful than humans are, which is why you need to ask Him to help you get out from under the guilt you’re in and stop letting other humans control the way you think (see Help For Murderers: Finding Peace With A God Who Loves You & Overcoming the Guilt of Failing to Protect).

LIE #4: HE GAVE HIS LIFE TO SAVE MINE AND NOW I HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO HONOR HIS SACRIFICE.

No, you really don’t.  Dead humans aren’t going to be your judges in eternity, God is.  The way that other souls are responding to God has nothing to do with your own walk with God.  There are many reasons that people throw themselves into the line of fire, and not all of those reasons are honorable.  Maybe Bill was obeying God’s convictions when he leapt between you and a bullet.  Maybe Bill was just protecting his own interests by deciding that he’d rather die than face the pain of being the sole survivor.  Maybe Bill was just trying to prove to himself or someone else that he wasn’t a coward.  Maybe he wasn’t trying to save you at all, he was just trying to move to a more strategic location.  Does it really matter?  Even if Bill acted nobly, he’s still going to end up in Hell if he didn’t sufficiently submit to his Makers.  You see, being sweet to other humans doesn’t excuse us from having to deal with our Creators.  Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit demand reverential submission from us.  When we blow off Their demands and try to get saved on our own terms, we quickly discover how much weight our opinion doesn’t have.

Since you can’t see the motivations of another soul, you don’t know why someone else ended up going down instead of you.  What you do know is that there are no accidents in God’s universe.  You can also know that God doesn’t take orders from us, and that means no one is going to convince God to let you live longer than He wants you to.  The idea that we can save each other’s lives is really an illusion which we cling to because we just can’t let go of the dream that we can actually control who dies when.  In real life, God is killing us all right on schedule, and no one is saving anyone.  But God does set us up in situations in which He strongly convicts us to help each other, and in such moments we need to act out of a desire to honor Him.  God also commands us to treat others the way we’d want to be treated, and we all want someone to come to our aid when we’re in a crisis.  When we organize emergency services to come to people’s aid in efficient ways, we are doing right to treat people as we’d want to be treated.  The cop who pulls the drunk driver off the road out of a desire to protect other drivers is acting on good intentions.  But while we’re abiding by that Golden Rule, we need to not lose sight of God’s sovereignty.  Helping people is a good general rule as long as God is not convicting us to stay out of it.  When efforts to help go south, we need to recognize His involvement in our plans and not start acting like we are controlling the way the world turns.  When other people appear to be acting heroic and selfless, we certainly want to express appreciation for their good intentions, but respecting does not mean we turn them into idols who we worship forevermore.  The fact that a fellow died in the line of duty does not turn him into a demigod who you are now forever indebted to.  You are only accountable to God in life—not God plus every human who ever did something nice for you.

The pressure to honor sacrifices often comes from those who are stuck in grief or guilt over the loss of life.  The grieving widow who wants to get sympathy and glory forevermore because of her great loss is going to pressure you to stay as stuck in the past as she is.  The father who worshiped his son now blames you for destroying his idol and he tries to punish you with endless demands.  When doctors can only get one twin through a rocky birth process, your mother never stops talking about how you owe it to your dead sibling to work twice as hard at everything.  When your buddy takes a bullet and gasps some dying request for you to take care of his family, you start letting his manipulative widow walk all over you because you’re afraid to break your promise.  Well, no, all of this is garbage.  You answer to God in life, not other humans.  It is your living Creator who you need to be trying to honor, not the aging memory of someone who is no longer on the planet.

When God transfers souls out of this world, it is because He no longer wants them to be here.  We express respect for God’s Authority by accepting His decision and fully releasing that which He has taken away from us.  We shouldn’t be living for the dead or trying to pretend that they still walk among us when they don’t.  We can’t let other humans start defining our convictions in life.  It is God alone who defines right and wrong—not the human fans of a dead person.  It is God’s unique plan for you which you should be pursuing, not the dreams other people had for a guy who is now dead.  So what if your brother Tony was a great baseball player?  You’re not him, and God hasn’t given you the skills to go pro.  So your father is just going to have to find a way to deal with his disappointment as you pursue God’s very different plan for your life.  You will never owe a debt to the dead, and God does not want us to obsess over those who are gone.  Memories are supposed to fade.  Faces are meant to be forgotten.  It is God, not other people, who we were created to revolve around.

LIE #5: MURDER IS AN UNPARDONABLE SIN, THEREFORE I CANNOT BE FORGIVEN AND I MUST ALWAYS BE MISERABLE.

There is no such thing as an unpardonable sin (see Understanding Unpardonable Sins: Lies vs. Truth).  God has a long history of forgiving every kind of sin that there is.  When He does decide to eternally damn us, it’s not because we committed a certain kind of sin.  Instead, it’s because His patience with our continuous rebellion has run out.  It is a refusal to submit to God on a soul level, not an attempt to snuff out the lives around you, that gets you eternally damned by Him.

Now if God was a “one strike and you’re out” kind of Guy, we’d all end up in Hell.  In real life, God is far more merciful than we are, yet we really struggle to accept this.  This results in us pretending that God is impossible to please when in reality it is our own forgiveness which we’re unable to secure.  Every time Sam thinks of how he strangled his girlfriend to death in a fit of rage, he is so overwhelmed with self-loathing that he wants to kill himself.  So what’s the solution here?  This is another case in which focusing on the soul attitude of submission is the key to unlocking those chains of guilt.  Sam needs to dwell on the fact that God infinitely outranks him in every way, thus God’s judgment trumps Sam’s.  If God says that Sam is forgiven, then that’s a judgment Sam needs to try to accept out of respect for God’s Authority.  Sam might totally disagree with God’s assessment, but Sam doesn’t get to tell God how to think (see Overcoming Shame).

LIE #6: GOD WON’T FORGIVE ME UNTIL THE DEAD PERSON’S FAMILY FORGIVES ME.

This is a very common misconception about God which is based on a couple of key lies.  First, you believe that God lets other humans tell Him how to think.  Second, you think that God is siding with grudge holding humans against you.  Well, no, both of these things are absolute lies.  A critical truth that will help you here is understanding what an autonomous Being God is.  He needs nothing, and He relies on no one.  He is an independent thinker who bows to no one.  God always does what God wants to do.  He is immune to all forms of manipulation.  While God invites us to interact with Him and constantly presents us with choices in life, we need to not read too much into this.  God doesn’t need us to like Him.  It doesn’t mess up His day when we defy Him.  While He thoroughly delights in us responding well to Him, He can be just as satisfied with flicking us into Hell.  Because human relationships depend on the presence of need, it freaks us out to deal with a God who has no needs that we can try to leverage against Him.  If God needs nothing from us, then how can we control His behavior through offerings, services, and nagging prayers?  We can’t.  For all of the time and breath we spend declaring things in Jesus’ Name and throwing verses in God’s face, we never succeed in getting Him to play the part of our submissive Servant.

God always leads, He doesn’t follow.  He does not invite created beings to participate in His judgment process.  Because God wants you to feel secure in your standing with Him, He explains His very simple judgment process to you.  It’s all about soul attitude.  When you sincerely want to please God, He is going to be pleased with you.  Maybe you were the guy who kidnapped little Tina, raped her, and chopped her up into little pieces which the police recently discovered.  Now Tina’s family hates your guts and they’ve been quoted in the news as declaring your actions to be unforgivable.  But what does God say?  Does He consult with Tina’s people before talking to you?  No, He doesn’t.  How God responds to you is going to depend on how your own soul is responding to Him.  If you’re being an unrepentant little brat, then God is going to be convicting you to repent and threatening you with dire consequences if you don’t submit to His Authority.  But if instead you are horrified by the depths to which you’ve sunk and you desperately want to get right with God somehow someway, then He is going to eagerly embrace you and help you start working on the underlying issues that motivated you to snatch little Tina in the first place.

God works with us each on an individual basis.  He simply doesn’t strain to forgive heinous actions because He isn’t hampered by a bunch of unfulfilled needs and unrealistic expectations. God understands humans inside and out. Our behavior never shocks Him, and His value system is not like a stock market which rises and falls on human perceptions.  As long as God is willing to accept you, no human can block you from being received by Him.  When God decides that He is pleased with you, no other human can change His mind.  When it comes to God deciding how He feels about you, human opinion isn’t worth a hill of beans.  Because God is such an autonomous Being, you simply don’t have to worry about how other people view you.  And while we’re on the subject of the irrelevance of human opinion to God’s judgment process: your own assessment of yourself is just as irrelevant as everyone else’s in persuading God to make a certain judgment of you.  Plenty of souls are strutting around in this world thinking that they are righteousness personified while they fantasize about God heaping rewards on their fat little heads in Heaven.  But what does God think?  His opinion is the only One that matters, and since our own views have no effect on His, we would be wise to sincerely seek His assessment of us.  If you declare yourself to be a winner but God chucks you into Hell, what good has it done you to have a lofty opinion of yourself?  In the same way, if you go crawling through life feeling like some loathsome worm when God has already forgiven you, then what are you gaining?  When you want to know about God’s opinion of you, you need to forget about other people and talk to God alone (see What To Do When People Won’t Forgive You & Repentant Sinners: Is it wrong to stop feeling bad about the past?).

LIE #7: IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME WHO DIED.

This is a common conclusion for those dealing with survivor guilt (see Overcoming Survivor Guilt).  Once again, focusing on submission is the key (are you picking up on what a critical soul attitude submission is?).  When this is the lie you’re embracing, the root issue is that you disapprove of how God worked out a certain situation.  Well, humans are His property, not yours, and He gets to do what He wants with His own property.  Contemplating the fact that God infinitely outranks you will help you start to see that it’s rather obnoxious for you to sit in judgment over Him.

A second helpful attribute to contemplate here is God’s absolute sovereignty.  Often in these cases, we feel haunted by the way the timing worked out.  You missed your flight by five minutes, and now the woman who took your place is dead instead of you.  Or you let your brother drive your car in that emergency situation, and now he’s dead and you’re not.  Age is another haunting factor.  The old often feel guilty for outliving the young, and parents feel especially awful for outliving their own children.  When John’s car spins out of control and his daughter’s seat gets moved into the line of impact, she is killed instead of him and he starts beating himself up over his bad driving.  Or there’s Officer Pete who is so frustrated with not getting a lunch break that he ignores a call on his radio so that he can finally eat something.  Meanwhile, another less experienced officer takes the domestic violence call and ends up getting shot.  Instead of recognizing God’s will at work, Pete blames himself for being a selfish slacker.  And yet was Pete really sinning to acknowledge his human limitations?  No.  A man has to eat sometime.  Humans aren’t machines—we can’t just go forever with no caloric intake.  The fact that Pete’s department does a terrible job of respecting human needs doesn’t mean Pete is being a jerk for taking care of himself.  In God’s universe, no one dies early and no one dies late.  Pete couldn’t have prolonged the other officer’s life by taking the call himself.  In this situation, Pete is assuming too much responsibility and forming judgments that God disagrees with.

God doesn’t make mistakes.  When He blocks you from being present at the fatal moment, it’s on purpose, not some fluke.  God is an absolute control at all times, and He is a needless Being who depends on us for nothing.  This means that He’s never going to suddenly drop the weight of the world onto your incapable little shoulders and say, “Act fast to save this life because I can’t!”

While you’re focusing on submitting to God’s Authority and accepting His right to kill whoever He wants whenever He wants, you also need to ask Him to help you submit to His judgments.  When you find yourself thinking that some other soul was more worthy of life than you are, you are making value judgments that God has not authorized you to make.  You don’t get to go culling through God’s many humans and decide who is more worthy than who.  God is the only authorized Assessor of human life, and He isn’t going to share His assessments with you.  Trying to read value statements into the timing of someone’s death is like trying to determine someone’s personality by the kinds of fruits that they like.  Length of life and God’s value of someone are two unrelated concepts.  Many souls who God is quite pleased with die young, others die in midlife, and others live to a ripe old age. It’s the same with spiritual rebels.  How much time God allots some human to be in this world doesn’t have anything to do with His personal value of them or His pleasure with them.  For the saved, death is a fabulous reward.  For the damned, death is the beginning of a terrible punishment.  How much time we clock in this world has nothing to do with it.  What matters is how we’ve responded to the many opportunities God has given us to make wise soul choices.

To say that you should have died when you didn’t is a nonsensical statement.  God never fails to follow through on what He wants to do.  If you didn’t die, it’s because God didn’t want you to.  When God does want you to die, there won’t be any way for you to get out of it.  Rather than cling to the delusion that your lifespan is being controlled by another human’s actions, you need to recognize that God is the One who is numbering your days.  When He has you miss death by a matter of seconds or inches, He is flaunting His absolute control over every molecule in your face for the purpose of helping you grasp how real His sovereignty is.  A proper understanding of God’s sovereignty unlocks the door to all kinds of soul-calming truths, so you want to embrace the lesson, not get all hung up on “should haves” and “what ifs.”

LIE #8: I KNOW SHE’S STILL WITH ME.  SHE TALKS TO ME AND VISITS ME IN MY DREAMS.  I NEED TO KEEP HER HAPPY OR SHE’LL MESS UP MY LIFE.

Ghosts are a real phenomenon, but they are not manufactured by dead humans.  It is always demons who present themselves as the dead person who you either loved too much or feel responsible for killing.  And once demons sell you on the ridiculous theory that some dead human is now obsessing over you in the netherworld, you’re going to go spiraling down into all kinds of harmful delusions.  A correct understanding of how death works is a critical step to breaking out of this trap, and this is why we used the metaphor of the fish ponds to help you understand how impossible it is for dead humans to communicate with you in any way.  A second thing you need to understand is that demons are very dangerous beings who only want the worst for you.  Messing around with spirits is a very foolish thing to do, but it’s not the demons you need to fear—it’s God.

The continuous protection of Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the only thing that’s preventing demons from mopping up the floor with you.  If you start provoking the only Beings who have the ability to keep demons at bay, then those Beings will respond by granting demons more opportunities to harm you.  Here is where we start getting into the terrifying visitations, the physical attacks, the voices in your mind that won’t stop screaming, and the creepy sounds that only you can hear.  You are an extremely fragile being who is completely out of your league when you’re messing with demons.  All of your Bible quoting, cross waving, and holy water flinging doesn’t do bumpkus to harm them, and yet there is no end to the ways that they can torment you.  It is only the true Gods who can flick demons off of you, and nothing irks those Gods faster than your soul trying to foster relationships with supernatural beings other than Them.  Praying to the dead, talking to the dead, presenting them with offerings, and trying to interact with them in any way is just you begging for a Divine spanking.  It only takes a matter of seconds for the most cocky spiritual rebel to start pleading for mercy when God lets the demons do their thing.  And yet once we have provoked God to this degree, He often takes His sweet time in delivering us from our troubles in order to give us time to cultivate the respect for His Authority which we’re so obviously lacking.  You really don’t want to go there, so if you’re starting to get targeted by demons who are impersonating the dead and claiming all kinds of power over you that they don’t have, it’s time to do some serious praying (see Help for Murderers: What To Do When Your Victims Are Haunting You, Pursued by Spirits: How to Find Real Help in Dealing with Supernatural Beings, & Seances, Mediums & Ghosts).

CONCLUSION

Your experiences in this world are designed to change you, educate you, and motivate you to pursue a closer relationship with God.  The more upset we are by an experience, the more we can learn from it.  As someone who has been deeply impacted by the death of another human, you need to ask God to help you learn all of the lessons He wants to teach you through this experience.  Ask Him to help you end up closer to Him for having gone through this.  Refuse to stay stuck in the past, clinging to the same old lies, and stagnating year after year.  No matter how long you’ve been stuck, God will help you get unstuck if you’re willing to let Him correct your false beliefs and teach you some new truths.  When God speaks to your soul, He always pulls your focus onto Him and encourages you to pursue Him with all that you are.  Ask Him to help you hear what He’s telling you about your own situation, and He will.

FURTHER READING:
Behind the Scenes with God: Human Variation, Lifespans, and the Mechanics of Salvation
Dealing with the Death of Christians in the End Times
Dealing with the Death of a Patient: Help for Christian Doctors
Dealing with the Death of a Spouse
Dealing with the Death of a Child

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