Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)
Seldom do we modern people think of death as being precious. We generally like to avoid thinking about death and often attempt to turn funerals into a celebration of life. The Scriptures however tell us that in God’s eyes there is something precious, valuable, sterling in the death of a saint. For God looks upon us humans from a perspective very different from our own.
The death of a saint is precious in God’s eyes because Life is precious. Life is not made less precious in God’s eyes because there is sickness or sorrow or suffering in it. For God holds precious the life and the lives who have come into existence in and through God’s created order. And whether a human lives for 94 years or 94 seconds, they are no less precious to God, for God lives in eternity, not in time, and God does not experience us in time or for a limited amount of time. God brings us into the timelessness of eternity in order to best experience us.
Unlike God for whom all life is precious, for us humans we more often hold that some life is precious and sometimes life is precious and some lives are more precious than others. We feel the pain, sorrow and grief when someone we care about suffers or dies. We feel that for those we care about life is short, and we understand that giving one’s life in service to others is the ultimate sacrifice, exactly because life is precious. But we also anguish over and are sunk in doubt when suffering enters into our life or the life of those we care about. Because life is precious we don’t want those important to us to suffer, we don’t want to suffer ourselves, and we don’t want death to end this short life.
So God sees us from the timeless point of view of eternity, and we see things only from our limited experience within the universe of space and time.
The Scriptures have another view of this and that view combines God’s view with our own. Life is precious. But life is also fraught with difficulties – just consider the two Psalms 23 & 91 which mention evil, the valley of the shadow of death, enemies, the deadly pestilence, the terror of the night, the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that stalks in darkness, the destruction that wastes at noonday. Sudden death, violence, terrorism, disease, aging, crime, natural disaster, and human made disaster. The Psalms are quite realistic about all the problems that beset us and threaten this precious life.
The Scriptures are clear that despite all these threats to life, God is love and God finds our lives precious, even if life is cut short, even if the world is awash in sin, even if there are evil divisions between. God sees through all of these distractions, and sees us as the people created in God’s image and likeness, everyone of us, and God still sees life and people as precious. All that happens in the world, good and evil, does not change the fact that life is precious in God’s eyes. And so too precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of God’s saints. Whatever role they had in the world however great or minor, however long or short, God sees beyond all the things that color our assessment of things and sees the precious human being, that one part of creation created in God’s own image and likeness. God recognizes in us what God created us for and wants us to be.
And in Scriptures the end of life in this world, death, is often recognized as a rest from the labors and struggles in this world. Scripture offers comfort to those who are still struggling in this world, still dealing with sickness, sorrow and sighing by calling the death of a person the time when they cease from their labors in this world and enter into their rest. That is what we read in the writings of St Paul such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The comfort offered is that death is a sleep, a time of rest, until the Lord awakens us in God’s Kingdom. The implication is that we lie down in this world to enter into our rest as the twilight of our life comes to an end. The next thing we will know is the morning dawn in God’s kingdom where everything is light.
The preciousness of the death of a saint, of a believer, is that God knows that person will now be with God forever, no longer suffering in this world, no longer toiling, but enjoying the blessedness of all God’s creatures in an eternal life with our Creator.
In the Orthodox tradition we sing a hymn at the funeral service which says:
With the saints give rest, O Lord, to the soul of your servant who has fallen asleep in a place of brightness, a place of repose, where sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.
We commit our deceased loved ones to that blessed kingdom where all life is precious in God’s eyes and all feast on the blessedness of seeing God because all the obstacles which prevent us from seeing God in this life have been taken away.