Over the years, here and there, I’ve encountered non-Jewish believers who are seemingly unable to fully identify with the suffocating sorrow Jewish believers endure when their immediate and extended family members die in a state of unbelief. And the reason these non-Jewish believers are unable to completely identify with such sorrow is because they’ve grown up in a cultural milieu where it’s more plausible to believe that at some point before their departed family members died, they trusted Messiah for forgiveness of sin. They’ve grown up in a world where such faith is not considered an anomaly. And so when I hear non-Jewish believers complain about the issues they have with their believing family, I feel like shaking them and saying, “Get some perspective, at least they’re heading for Heaven!” Plus, even when these family members are challenging, for a fleeting moment at least, they can still get what these gentile Jewish Messiah followers are about at their deepest most meaningful level. And despite whatever dysfunction exists that hinders a healthy relationship with their family, there remains the potential for Spirit enabled reconciliation.
Now obviously the absolutely dreadful unimaginable eschatological elephant in the room concerning unbelieving loved ones is the reality of Hell! And if we take God’s inerrant self-disclosure seriously, we can’t sugar-coat or dance around the fact that according to the words of Jesus Himself, the future of the majority of humanity will be eternal separation from union and fellowship with God combined with never ending fully conscious physical and emotional suffering (cf. Matt. 7:13-14). The finality of this condition will be irrevocably fixed and utterly devoid of any shred of hope. And there’s nothing within in our experiential or cognitive frame of reference that can even begin to remotely correspond to the full magnitude of this. Given our inherent finite human limitations, all we can ultimately do is soberly faith-embrace the fact that God is so radically holy it took only one sin by the first Adam to condemn the entire human race (cf. Rom. 5:12); and rejoice and faith-embrace the truth that God is so radically gracious it took only one act of obedience by the second Messianic Adam to make the entire human race potentially savable (cf. Rom. 5:18).
When I think about this, I think about my brother that I lost. When he left this life, I don’t know where he was at with the Lord. Despite sharing the same blood line, our respective adult lives went in two very opposite directions. But when he was gone, a piece of me was gone. My memory of him grows dimmer. It doesn’t haunt me like it did before. And yet sometimes I’ll be eating by myself in a restaurant after preaching somewhere, and I’ll see someone who bears a remarkable physical resemblance to my brother. And then a rush of fond childhood memories strangely envelops me, and a rush of melancholy emotions come to the surface. I imagine life in a more perfect world where he’s married with a family, living in the same town that I do, and we’re sharing a meal and life together. I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes are welling up with tears as I’m writing these words.
But it is what it is. And God enables me to deal with what is. And one of the ways He enables me to deal with what is, and one of the things He reminds me of so blues don’t stay wrapped around my head; is that I don’t know with absolute 100% certainty what was in my brother’s heart and mind when he died. Perhaps, just perhaps, immediately before his death, he cried out to the Jewish Messiah to spiritually rescue him. I don’t mean to blow my own shofar, but I was able to talk to my brother about God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life on several occasions. And I choose to believe that he didn’t forget those conversations. So I hold on to a glimmer of hope while also affirming that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right (cf. Gen. 18:25). And for me anyway, this is why saying goodbye when goodbye is 99.9% forever is .1% easier.