Just a few days ago, I had to help conduct the cremation service of a 7-month-old baby boy. To say the least, the parents and grandparents who helped to looked after him were visibly distraught and devastated over the loss of their beloved firstborn. Likewise, many of their extended family members and friends were also grieving and cried out in anguish as they too would have found it difficult to bid their goodbyes. This is because the child’s death was totally unexpected. In addition, most of them would have recently seen and played with him during the festive season.
Apart from the child’s mother, almost everyone else at Mandai Crematorium were non-Christians. For them, one of the things that they sought to comfort the bereaving family with, particularly the grandmother, was their belief that this child would soon be reincarnated and be reunited with the family once the mother is pregnant. Even though in their worldview, the reincarnated child is not expected to appear physically to be the same person and may not even have scant memories of his “past life”, they would be contented with having what they assume is the same soul of the departed child.
In the midst of such a tragic loss, it is only understandable that they would yearn for the departed to return quickly back to their family. Indeed, love often seeks the presence of the beloved and absence makes the heart grow fonder. However, if one were to reflect further, it does seem that the desire to have one’s departed resume his life here on earth and to continue his relationship with us after his death can be somewhat self-centred.
After all, if love means seeking the well-being of the beloved, would it not be better to desire the departed to be in heaven? Indeed, as much as we might miss our loved ones and find separation an agonising prospect, surely life here on earth cannot be compared to heaven regardless of the creature comforts one’s family can provide and the love we are prepared to shower upon our loved ones?
Furthermore, if being reincarnated back as a human suggest that there is much more that this individual has to go through and accomplish before he can attain “enlightenment” or reach heaven, then surely such a situation can hardly be a source of hope. In a worldview that holds to reincarnation, it would mean that this individual is still trapped in an endless cycle of birth and rebirths and is in need of salvation. As much as we may miss our loved ones, I doubt anyone would really want our loved ones to suffer again the pain of a fragile body and the vagaries of life.
In contrast to reincarnation, our Christian hope in the face of death is built upon the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:12-28). We know that no matter how we try (even if we were given countless opportunities), no one could ever erase the stain of sin that separates us from a holy and loving God. In the first place, God’s word is clear that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27). In other words, all of humanity has only one shot in this life to give an account before God. Apart from Jesus who is without sin, we all miss the mark.
But thanks be to God, as much as we are undeserving, God lavished his love upon us and gave us the gracious gift of his Son (1 John 3:1, 4:10). In the person of Jesus Christ, God has provided the way for our sins to be forgiven and to know his love. Indeed, those who trust in the saving work of Jesus and repent from their sins are forgiven by God and delivered from the bondage of sin and death.
For the Christian, we get to experience God’s love here on earth even as we look forward to a greater intimacy with God. Because of the certainty of Christ’s resurrection, we now know that death is no longer merely an end to our earthly afflictions. As much as death in and of itself is an unwelcomed intruder, there is a sense in which Christians can legitimately look forward to the day on which we die because at that point we enter into our eternal rest and a new life with God. Unless the Lord returns beforehand, death represents the point at which we will first see God face to face.
Instead of a grave or a niche, the true ending of our lives is a home with God. It is a place that Jesus is preparing for us to be with him for all eternity (John 14:1-4). In that place, we will have a new body that is free from the effects of sin and share in the glory of Christ (2 Thess 2:14, 1 Jn 3:2) along with others who have longed for His return.
In the midst of the tears, it was heartening to know that the boy’s mother was not grieving as one without hope. As a Christian, she recognises that although there will be moments when she and her family members will miss her son intensely, God can heal the broken-hearted. More importantly, she is learning to continue to trust in her Risen Lord in the face of tragedy and commit the eternal well-being of her child unto God. After all, as any other loving mothers would, she desires only the best for her child.
Rev Edwin Wong
February 24, 2019