The evening of August 8, 2015, I posted a tribute in honor of 18 year old Rickey Craver Jr. who had died that morning with a picture that was taken just 2 days before his death. Part of the caption read:
“You’re fighting so well sweetheart. You’re doing good. You’re doing so good.”
These were the things we told this sweet baby as he faced death head on last night. Braver than any of us & only 18, Rickey Craver Jr., was so strong. So brave. It is always painful to watch a child fight for their lives, but Rickeys fight had inspired so many as droves of people came to visit him in his last hours. He was determined to never give up. Ever since my family & I have known Rickey, his heart- my God his heart- was so special. We’ve grown so attached to him and his family this past year. Getting to know him & hang out with him & his family has been such a gift. When I got the call that Rickey had been given only a few days, I dropped everything to come. I thought I had an idea of what I would see. I didn’t. I’ve never called anyone my hero until now. Rickey’s battle came to its most intense stage last night, after several days of fighting … Just two days ago as the cancer started to get to its worst, I asked Rickey what He was most grateful for. He replied: “God. Because He does good things.” At 18, this sweet boy exhibited a faith like the saints in my church history books, a strength like that of heroic legends, & a love like that of Christ to everyone around him. Real. Rickey has touched my heart: His fight is SO worthy to be noted, His life worthy to be remembered. He was so strong. His life inspired many, including me. God recruited one of the best last night: Rickey Craver Jr.: a hero of great faith, a strong brother in Christ.”
Nothing can prepare you for something like this. Looking at a dead child, whose life was just ripped from him in the worst of ways surrounded by a hysterically weeping family with nothing but “why God?”, tears streamed down my face too with the exact same question. Death is the ultimate challenge to God’s love, the enemy’s favorite weapon to cause us to doubt God’s goodness. It causes us to question,“If God is so good, if He is so powerful, if He is so loving, then why would He allow bad to happen?” A real question that not only atheists build their missions on, but even the greatest of believers tuck away in their hearts.
The problem is, the heart is the pilot of the plane and this question goes straight for the cockpit. It isn’t neutral, yet it often goes unsatisfied. It doesn’t just sit quietly in us awaiting to be answered. It begs to know- how, even in this, is God good!? It’s a seed of doubt that blasphemes what the bible says about the character and heart of God, and the longer it goes unaddressed, the further it infects the hearts of men; dismantling their belief in God’s goodness and care, creating bitterness, distance from God, and in result people just straight up reject God out of heartbreak or those who secretly are brokenhearted towards God just go through the motions creating cold religion. It infects many today, and it has even infected me, until now.
My heart broke watching my friend, a new believer, encourage everyone else to be happy because he said “this is supposed to be a happy time not a sad time”- watching him fight for his life against an incurable disease as he is preparing to meet Jesus. With every second you see the life that is in him- it is there, he is there- he struggles to breath as he drowns in his own fluids as his body is shutting down and unable to do anything because he’s “actively dying,” but we assure him we were there, give him security so it would ease his anxiety, hold him, hug him, tell him he is doing such a good job at dying.
We stayed by his side as his body began to reflex in gasping for air, struggle to breathe as his lungs flooded, watch his pupils dilate until he is no longer moving and becomes still and he is no longer responsive, still, vacant, and he dies in his mother’s and sister’s arms in his bedroom packed full of wailing and deeply grieving family. He’s gone. You see that and you realize death is real… and you don’t walk away unaffected.
The reality is profound and describing it is appropriate because I learned that in its rawness you find out what your faith is made of.
It’s a blunt reality, a fate we can’t escape and will all face.
Death is a scary reality. Coming to terms with it, and witnessing this reality- it makes so much sense to cry out for someone to help us, to rescue us. That is why we call Jesus Savior.
We were created to live forever with Him, but the curse of sin is what separated us from Him, where death comes from, and it is what kills us. The origin of death is sin, but it is hardly an appropriate or even sufficient answer in the wake of a death. Because the question in our hearts isn’t where is death coming from, it is where is God?
As I watched preachers come in after Rickey’s death I was curious how exactly they were going to handle it. The deafening reality of death did not even give our typical Sunday school answers the floor to speak. I was rendered speechless, and yet this was supposed to be the stomping grounds of the church. I said in my heart to God, “how are you going to reconcile this?” And God said to me, “Jesus wept.”
In John 11:1-44, Jesus raises a man named Lazarus from the dead after being dead 4 days. Aside from the jaw-dropping miracle he performs that displays his power over death- one of the greatest highlights of the passage, a colossal element of God’s character is revealed in vs. 35- “Jesus wept.” It is the profound truth in why Jesus wept that God knew my heart and faith was in desperate need of knowing.
Jesus wept for a dead man he was about to raise back to life, right after telling his disciples this was for Gods’ glory. Why? Jesus is fully in control of the situation yet scripture said He saw the people weeping and a deep anger welled up within Him (the greek reveals Jesus felt anger, outrage or emotional indignation). And He didn’t just have empathy… scripture said He wept, He shed tears, the greek ( ἐδάκρυσεν ο Ἰησοῦς) literally translates Jesus burst into tears. Don’t miss this!
Jesus was more than sad for Lazarus’ death, He was consumed with passionate grief and anger- not out of despair, but out of rage towards death and sin because of His love for his friends. Because we were never intended to die. Our God hates death; it’s not our original design. He hates we are bound up in such a curse and even though He is God, He cries when we die. But God isn’t just over here feeling sorry for us- no, He is deeply troubled, He cares! But so often, just like the observers in vs. 33 who said, “This man healed the blind man. Couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying?” we forgetfully look at death or troubles and ask why God? Why death? Cant you stop it? Aren’t you God? Do something!
And He simply replies, I have, and I did. I am more troubled by death than you and that’s why I sent my Son to conquer it so that in Him you might have everlasting life.
God opened my eyes in a very dramatic way through Rickey’s death and confronted me with a question I thought my heart already knew the answer to- that in all things God is good. But I must admit, my heart didn’t know that truth like I thought, not like it does now.
I learned how the significance of Jesus weeping in John 11 is our Gospel. I learned a depth of God’s love that I didn’t know before, and it all has radically changed the way I live and interact with other believers, and dramatically benefited my personal relationship with God. This is the Gospel.
We serve a God who so deeply loves us that he laid down his own life to rescue us from the power of death so that in Him we might dwell with Him for all eternity.
He is not on the other side of some gates waiting for you- no, He is with you every moment as you pass from one world to the next. Scripture says that when we’re absent from the body we are present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8)- Jesus literally escorts us into eternity.
We serve a God who is near not distant, who is active not passive, who is present never abandoning us.
What love for God such truth stirs up in my heart, as it should. To know Jesus was with Rickey, and will also be with me too when my time comes- I want to serve a God who loves like this. His love for us conquered the grave, saving us from the sting of death. He is in control and with us when we die and thus can trust Him with our lives. Today my sweet friend Rickey, a new believer, knows more about God now than I could ever fathom. He is home. In his last moments, his bravery and faith left a legacy that will influence the rest of my life. What a joy it will be to see him again. God is good.
Jessica Haas is an unapologetic woman of faith whose heartbeat is for girls ministry. She is a national Speaker and Speed Art Performer. Jessica placed 6th at Miss Tennessee two years in a row, and was the first Speed Painter in Miss Tennessee history to ever win a talent preliminary with art by painting the face of Christ in only 90 seconds upside down. A graduate of Memphis College of Art and seminary student at Union University, Jessica is also a multidisciplinary artist and the owner/lead designer of The Birds Nest Co., as well as the founder of Unbound Ministries- an empowerment ministry that seeks to free at-risk girls from poverty. Find out more about Jessica’s business, ministry, and journey on her website, as well as Instagram and Twitter.