Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mourning for the Dead

The following, letter was written to a dear friend who was utterly broken down by excessive grief over the death of a beloved relative, writes Stead in Letters from Julia. I have suppressed the passages which were exclusively personal to the friend in question, but the letter as a whole might be addressed to any of those who mourn for their dead as those who have no hope.

I was often with you during the last illness of your dear one, and oh I did so want to help you, but I could not make you see me or hear. I was with you that day when she came over to our side. We were all waiting around for her, and I felt it would have been such a comfort to you to have told you just how happy she was with her mother and husband and the others. But, alas! alas! you were all so unintelligent we could not make you hear anything.

My own beloved, what do you mean by mourning as one who has no hope? Is it then all mere talk that Christ brought life and immortality to light? Why is it that with the certainty of the continued existence of your loved ones you feel as disconsolate and forlorn as if there were no other world, and as if Christ had never triumphed over death and the grave? Why  do you grieve as those who have no hope? Do you not know that you are as a city, set on a hill which cannot be hid? How many thousands, nay millions, of poor souls all over the world will have their lives saddened by the drip of your tears, who might have been gladdened by the sunlight of your smile—if you had only believed really in the love of God!

I do not say you have been very bad, I only mean to say that, whether from ill health or overstrain, you have not made the most of an opportunity. My dearest friend, I beg you not to think that I would dare to say these things to one to whom I owe so much, and from whom I learnt almost all that has been useful to me on this side, but I am on this side, and we can see things here which you cannot. I still hope that you will be able to give to all the whole world an example, not of what is called Christian resignation, which is often only another word for despairing acquiescence, but the gladness and joy unspeakable that is the natural right of those who live in God's love. This is not my message only. It is the message of all on this side. Why were you raised up, why are you set on high in order that all eyes may see you? I know you. Not for your own sake, but in order that you in your life may reflect His love to all who see you, as a mirror reflects the sun's rays. My dear, dear friend, why do you not weep, not that your dear one is with us, but because you have made so little of the magnificent opportunity of proving to all that the other world is God's world to you, and that those who are lost to others are not lost to you who believe?

It is no use saying you believe if you don't believe. What is the use of saying you are warm if you shiver? I must beg of you not to be vexed with me, and not to think that I would say one word about anything that might grieve your mind, nor that we see so clearly, oh so clearly, what a chance there is now of proving to all the reality of Christ's triumph over death.

What can I say to convince you? It is easy, you say, for me to scold you, but you cannot hear me, see me. You stretch out your hands in the darkness for your dear one who stands close to you, and you feel nothing, and you are disconsolate, and your heart rebels and you are unbelieving. Well, so far as you disbelieve, so far you lose your power to be the conductor of the love of God to man.

The secret of all power to help man is for you to be just the passive instrument in God's hands to teach, to show, to prove what he says. When self or unbelief comes in, there is weakness and loss of power. I don't mean by self what people call selfishness; I mean the darkness of material things which shuts us out from God and His Truth.

It is no use saying you believe when you feel sad. No one who really believes can ever feel sad. The measure of your grief is the measure of your unbelief. We who live in the atmosphere of the Love of God are often sad at our own imperfections. But where the deed is not ours but His, when the fact is what His wisdom and love have accomplished, not what our selfishness and sin have brought about, then all sorrow is the register of the spiritual thermometer of unbelief.

Forgive me; I hate having to say these things to you, you who have been my teacher, to whom I owe all I am now, oh my own beloved friend. It is not pleasant for me to say these things. It is a hard thing. But I know your faith, and I know your love, and I trust to see them shine forth radiant and as the Love of God before the eyes of a sorrowing world.

How awful a sight is the human race. Nothing you have ever said, or written, or dreamed could adequately express the sense of the horror of the sum of misery and anguish that prevails in the world by the presence of Death. By sin came death, Christ came to triumph over both. But He has not triumphed if those who call themselves by His name have no realising sense of the immortality of their loved ones. Christ destroyed the dim veil that sin drew between the two worlds. Christ opened up the spirit world to those on earth. But since His time that veil has been gradually restored, until now Death is as palpable a separation as it was in the pagan day. That is to be changed, and you are charged with one great part of the work of changing it. It is a proud privilege, a glorious opportunity. Go back, not as one who sorrows for the dead who are lost, but one who rejoices for the lost who are found.

And if you are faithful, then will the joy of the Love of our Lord, which will fill your heart, be as the Dayspring from on high to the dim, sorrow-bleared eyes of the human race.

Now, my dearest and honoured friend, forgive me! What I write, I write not for myself alone, but for all on this side whose hope is placed in you. Goodbye.

Your loving friend,