God’s Obituaries

By Jack Williams

The man who captured Ghandi’s killer had been dead five months before the Boston newspapers where he lived published his obituary. Herbert Reiner, Jr., was a career diplomat who entered the U.S. Foreign Service in 1947. He went to a prayer meeting on January 30, 1948, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ghandi. It was Ghandi’s last meeting.

A Hindu nationalist, enraged by Ghandi’s overtures to Muslims, maneuvered past his aide and fired three shots. While others stood paralyzed at the horror, Herbert Reiner grabbed the killer and swung him into the hands of the Indian police, his action captured on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Reiner’s obituary appeared in the May 26, 2000, edition of the Los Angeles Times while I was on a convention-planning trip to California. The obit of that famous man covered just 25 lines. I expected more for the man who caught Ghandi’s killer.

Then I rememberedhow God wrote short obituaries in the Bible. Most are profoundly brief, none grandiose. Some rather prominent biblical characters hardly merit more than a statement of fact when they died.

Adam, for instance, the first man. He died at age 930. It won’t take long to read Adam’s obituary. He gets three verses in Genesis 5 (vv. 3-5). What was God thinking? Why, we give more space to a vagrant’s passing.

That pattern of obitsreduced to a few well-chosen words regardless of reputation continues throughout the Bible. You remember Abraham, the gentleman who started out as Abram (Genesis 12:1), left home at age 75 looking for a city and became known as the “Friend of God” (James 2:23). He is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

When Abraham died at age 175, his death notice was limited to four verses (Genesis 25:7-10). We sing songs about his faith and preach sermons explaining the Abrahamic Covenant. Why didn’t God write a fuller obit about the father of faith?

Jacob, the manwhose namewas changed to Israel (Genesis 35:10) fared no better. Jacob’s obit is exactly one verse long (Genesis 49:33).

Elisha, that spectacular prophet with a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, earned a one-verse death notice (II Kings 13:20), and half of that talks about an invasion of the Moabites! I expected more.

Even the obituary of Jesus is amazingly short, although it’s repeated four times in the Gospels.  Of course, Jesus’ obit had to be rewritten three days later when He refused to stay dead.

Most heroesof faithget no more than a passing line or no mention at all. The great lawgiver, Moses, only managed four verses in Deuteronomy 34 (vv. 5-8). I really expected more.

The Lord didn’t slight Moses, particularly in light of Noah’s abbreviated obit. You may recall Noah as the fellow who saved the entire human race by building an ark of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14). Noah’s death notice covers 15 words in Genesis 9:29.

David—the Old Testament hymn writer, sweet psalmist of Israel, killer of giants, a man after God’s own heart, soldier and monarch—lies beneath an obit the size of a business card. Just two and a half verses (I Chronicles 29:26-28a).

Strong man, Samson,owns a two-verse plot (Judges 16:30-31). Gideon, who conquered an invading army with 300 men in a daring night attack while outnumbered so badly they stopped counting, settles for a one-verse obit (Judges 8:32).

Wait, wait—there’s more. The wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, fits into a tight corner verse in I Kings 11:43. John the Baptist whom Jesus called the greatest man born among women (Matthew 11:11) ends with one verse (Matthew 14:10). What wasGod thinking? I expected so much more.

The point of all thisis that the work of God goes on when the people of God die. Abraham dies—Isaac steps up. Moses dies—Joshua leads Israel across Jordan. Elijah rises in a whirlwind—Elisha takes up the mantle.

Stephen dies in the last verse of Acts 7. Acts 8 opens with God’s hand already on a young man named Saul of Tarsus. The work of God never stops. The people of God wipe away the tears, strap on their spurs and keep looking up.

The quality of the life lived is more important than the length of the posted obituary notice. God keeps a permanent and full record someplace else, someplace higher (Job 16:19).

Part of the reasonfor God’s notoriously brief obituary notices can be found in Hebrews 11:38 that describes those who die in faith, “…Of whom the world was not worthy….”

An invitation-only celebration planned when the Book of Life opens on the last day will let us see clearly that those who died in faith were not dead after all (John 11:25). They were hidden with Him in the mystery we call death (II Corinthians 5:8).

On second thought, I like the way God writes obituaries for His people. They all end, not with a period, but with a comma.

About the Writer:Former editor of Contact magazine, Jack Williams is director of communications at Free Will Baptist Bible College, Nashville, TN.