Can We Dig Him Up?

Ari asked this as we stood at the edge of his Daddy’s grave. Peter’s gravestone had not yet been placed, but I knew he had been buried right next to my brother, Stanley. This was the second time Ari had asked. Several weeks ago, Ari asked, “Is it legal for us to go dig up dead people? Can we dig up my daddy, your mommy and daddy and give them hugs?” I explained the whole thing about the body being in the grave and the spirit being with Jesus, but it is a lot for even an adult to grasp, let alone a six-year-old.  I also assured him that digging up dead people was not legal.

Ari’s question is a good one. Despite all our talk of death being a natural part of life, death feels wrong. The loss of those we love remains a tragedy, and death, an enemy. I still miss my mother and father. I have especially missed having them pray for me and my family in the midst of heartbreak. I miss their wise counsel and deep compassion.  When I see a new bird or unusual butterfly, I miss being able to share that with my oldest brother, Stanley. It all feels wrong. And it is. Like Ari says, we should be able to hug them.

Scripture is on Ari’s side. Paul makes clear that death is a result of sin (Romans 5:17). In I Corinthians 15:26 Paul declares, “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” Death is an enemy— and not an enemy we are commanded to love. We were created to be eternal. Love is made to endure. We should not comfort the grieving with assurances that death is natural and, as Disney preaches, is part of the great circle of life.

Here in Oregon the push to celebrate death as a natural part of life is especially strong and widespread. It is driven by a concern for the environment and our healthy celebration of nature. Oregon is offering more ways to compost the body or even wrap our remains in the roots of tree-ball, so we “live again” through the tree’s growth. I don’t object to any of these practices, and I think it wise not to plant people filled with toxic embalming fluids. But none of this should diminish our instinctive conviction that death is wrong and an enemy.

Even though believers are not comforted by the naturalness of death, we are not without comfort. As believers in Jesus, we believe not only in resurrection but in reunion. Recently, Ari and I sat together in our little leaky hot tub talking theology. It is one of the few times he is still enough for a conversation. Ari asked me when he would see his daddy again. I explained that when we die, we go to be with Jesus and that I believed his daddy was with Jesus. His response was, “I want to die, so I can go see my daddy.” I said, “Me too!” However, I went on to say when we die is up to God.

Ari got excited and his eyes big when I explained that someday Jesus was going to return with all those who had believed in him and that we would all be together. On that day, I explained, God would make all wrong things right and all ugly things, beautiful. On that day all death would end and there would be hugs. With some sadness and a lot of wisdom, Ari said, “I want that to happen soon.”

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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