Missionary Gabriel C. Stovall on the Suddenness of Death

The thing that activates my pen today, on the 17th anniversary of 9/11, is something that actually rendered me speechless when I first heard about it — the abruptness of death intruding in what seemed to be an ordinary day

After a pretty emotional weekend at The Covington News — the metro Atlanta newspaper where I serve as sports editor — covering the shooting of Covington Police Department officer Matt Cooper, complete with the magnanimous outpouring of community support for the wounded officer and his family, I heard of the sudden deaths of two high school students.

Both of them were seniors, exemplary students who left indelible imprints on the lives they touched.

One went to Eastside High School in Covington which is part of my coverage area; the other, Forest Park High School, my wife’s alma mater where she currently teaches biology and coaches softball.

It was a punch in the gut to hear of the unexpected demise of two young men who seemed to have the world in front of them. The Eastside student died in a car accident; the young man from Forest Park simply slipped away in his sleep.

As a believer in Christ and a pastor, death has always been an interesting conundrum for me. For those who trust Christ as their Savior, we often couch death in equal parts sad and flowery terms — grieving the earthly loss while celebrating the heavenly gain, remaining hopeful to see them again in eternity.

More than 21 years of preaching and 12 years of pastoring, and officiating many funerals, has taught me that no two experiences with death and dying are the same, despite many similar characteristics. For me, it’s always been the sudden, here-today-gone-tomorrow type of death that causes me to struggle.

It’s one thing when a person is diagnosed with some sort of terminal illness or a disease like Alzheimer’s which currently afflicts my father. You watch them almost with a haunting sense of inevitability in a balancing act of trying to prepare for it while not grieving prematurely.

But what about when death didn’t seem to be on the horizon? On the last day these two young men woke up, they had no reason to believe it was their last day among us. Nothing clued them to the notion that their lives would soon come to a screeching halt, leaving the rest of us to deal with the emotional aftermath.

And yet, it’s perhaps these kinds of deaths that provide the greatest reminder of the futility and brevity of life, and the sheer urgency we should carry daily to live it well.

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Source: Baptist Press