For me, 2016 started with death, it has been punctuated by death, and my most prominent memory of the close of the year, will also be of death. For the most part, these deaths have been of prominent public figures; Lemmy, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, amongst others. I reckon if Keith Richard can keep his head down for the next 6 weeks or so, we can probably assume he is immortal. The final name to mention here, and it breaks my heart to have to type it, is “Simo Lintinen”.
As well known as the first four names I mention are, I cannot find a mention about them having a faith in Christ. Simo did have a faith in Christ. A deep, passionate, and active one.
When we hear of a death, we often reel out platitudes to in hopes of comforting the bereaved and ourselves. “Ah, they were taken too soon.”, or “God needed another angel.”. Whilst these feel nice to say, there isn’t a biblical base for them. Jesus said that He, “has come to give life, and life in all fullness. It is the devil who comes to steal, kill and destroy.”. Death was never part of God’s plan as He began creation, death isn’t part of His plan now, and it most certainly isn’t part of His plan in heaven.
The day after the news of Simo’s passing, I was due to provide the music for an Alpha course meeting. Against the background of the this news, the threat of redundancy, and problems at home; the last thing I felt equipped to do, was to play guitar and sing some songs from church. Earlier I wrote about how worshipping from a place of brokenness can be an act of defiance. Now again, I am living it.
These are the songs I had prepared in advance.
- Kaikki joita Henki johtaa / All whom the Spirit leads (S. Heikkila)
- Jumala on puolellamme / God is for us (E. & J. Rautio)
- Niin suuri Hän on / How great is our God. (C. Tomlin)
As mentioned, I was pretty much empty and so I asked a friend to pray with me before the session started and I think this made all the difference. As we sang through the songs I began see the common thread flowing through the pieces.
“Kaikki joita” ended by singing the phrase, “we will receive our inheritance with Christ” as a refrain. Each time I sang it, the words locked into place more and more, that Simo now has received his inheritance. Each time I sang it, it felt like victory rising in my chest.
That feeling stayed and strengthened for the chorus of “Jumala on puolellamme”, where we sing,
“Not darkness, nor light, not the past nor the future, not death, nor life, can separate us from His love.”
The rising feel of victory from the previous song somehow gave birth to joy when singing that “not even death can separate us from Him.”. We closed the song by repeating the opening phrase, which in English is simply, “God is on our side.”.
Singing the final song, “How Great is Our God.”, in defiance of how I had been feeling only half an hour earlier – it felt like waving my middle fingers joyfully at the devil.
For a month, all over the world countless people had been praying for a miracle which never came. If there was ever one guy, one family who deserved this miracle, it was them. The fact that it never came does not make our root of our faith weak and ineffectual. Rather it is the victory cry that death has no power over the Christian’s soul, that God himself is our side, and that no-one is greater than Him – it is this cry which proves for me that the hope of a Christian is based a on solid and unwavering foundation.
So here it is again. The paradox of the Christian faith.
I am three weeks away from finishing my notice period, job interviews are coming up blank, things could be a lot easier at home, and a good man who I know lost his battle again cancer. Yet, somehow it is still true that as a Jesus followers we have an identity which is not defined by this world, as much it would try to define us. It is still true that even in the face of the toughest trials and hardships, God is still on our side. It is still true that there is none greater than Him.
A great Aunt died a few years ago. I got the phone call about an hour after her passing and after hanging up, I tried my best to utter a suitably sombre, “May she rest in peace.”. I just couldn’t manage it. Since I knew her to be a Jesus follower, all I could think was, “Wow – good for her!”. We will still miss and grieve for those who have died, there will be a gap in our lives for a long time after they pass, but for me, there is a comfort in the hope of a reunion at a later date.
The bible teaches us that in heaven there is no more pain, sickness or suffering. No more tears, grief or sadness. Time has no meaning, and we will be able to hang out forever with the very best big brother and friend we have ever known. I imagine the feeling to be similar to the very best of summer evening parties. The host is doing the rounds, meeting each of us with the warmest of bear-hug embraces, and with a personal word of greeting – making us feel welcome and special. All your friends are there, and more will be coming along soon. You are in the sweet spot of having a sated appetite, but still have room for just a little more cake or something from the grill. Someone has brought a guitar and is jamming through some songs and riffs with the pianist, whilst others sing along. The kids are running wild and free, playing hide and seek with the host. Sounds nearly like heaven.
This maybe is the inheritance spoke of in “Kaikki joita”, which Simo now enjoys, and the same waits for all of us who have put our faith in Jesus.
Simo Lintinen. 26.10.1953 – 1.11.2016