precious

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his saints.” -Psalm 116:15

I suppose I was one of the many that really didn’t give this verse a second thought until it quit sounding right to me. Before this morning, I took this verse as a quaint little thought (if I can say that about Scripture) to mean that the Lord valued the end of a well-lived life of one of His saints who walked with Him. But …it’s death. How can you put “death” and “precious” in the same sentence? Death is anathema. It’s the opposite of everything good and right.

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” -Ecclesiastes 7:8

I read the first verse in light of this one from Ecclesiastes. The end of a life of a saint (and by “saint,” I use the evangelical New Testament definition of one who follows Christ) is the end of a story. Just as stories have a beginning and an end, so do our lives. The life of every saint –the everyday walk that bears forward in patience and testifies to God’s faithfulness in the road behind rather than the beginning of the road full of the prideful plans we have for ourselves– tells the story of God’s faithfulness. Even alongside the emptiness of a loved one gone and the grief, I really believe the end of the life of a saint should have some of the same feeling as the coming to the end of a good book that you close and lay in your lap for a moment, a little hesitant to return to life outside the story. In some sense it should have a satisfying ending.

The reason for my morning ramble –after a sleepless night, I learned that Sam’s grandfather, who began a slow and steady decline after the home-going of his wife several years ago, passed away in the night. I suppose I wasn’t entirely surprised –when I wake in the middle of the night, I’ve learned that the best way to go back to sleep is prayer. I find if I wait a bit, there’s usually someone that comes to mind. I honestly can’t remember who or what it was this time. Perhaps it was Sam’s grandpa or our family. I’m not sure. The moon was two days from full last night, and the light from its glow lit the room enough that even I in my night-blindness could clearly see around the room. I nearly thought it was morning, and I’m sure I heard birds outside before I checked the time on my phone to make sure I hadn’t missed the alarm. 3:38 am. When Sam called this morning, I assumed that answered why I couldn’t sleep well last night. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints”‘ was one of the first things that I thought about as I sat out here with my computer and my coffee. I had to figure out the rightness of that statement, because it sure didn’t seem right this morning, at least from my perspective.

Psalm 116 as a whole recounts God’s faithfulness to the Psalmist –how God had delivered him from death, which further confused me. If he is rejoicing over being delivered from death, how can death be considered “precious”? …The commentaries I checked seem to think that he is emphasizing that the death of a saint is not something God takes lightly –it is precious. It has a price. Precious, meaning costly, perhaps. A precious thing is something carefully considered. It is not taken for granted. The way God guides our lives and our deaths is a precious thing to Him. If we live in light of that fact, we need not fear death. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. We can be sure that He will not forsake His saints –in life or in death. Each day is in His hands, whether we are gifted many days or few.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
    and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
    by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

12 So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!”         –Psalm 90