I’ve had very little experience with death-related grief. Come to think of it, I haven’t had too many people in my life cross over into the next, either. And of those I knew who did pass on from this world, I never really knew them. There was never a relationship. Never a close or personal bond. Half of my grandparents died before I ever met them. The other half passed on without me ever meeting them twice. While I had known that their passings were a time of deep sadness in both of my parents’ lives, still I had not known what it meant to really mourn.
With Nabeel, it was a little bit different.
I still remember the day I first heard of his diagnosis. I was sitting on my bedroom floor with my laptop and journal in front of me. I was going through a difficult time and, in a routine scroll through Twitter, found myself comforted by one of Nabeel Qureshi’s Youtube vlogs.
I had not known much about him at the time, other than the fact that he was a Christian apologist who, after debating with an old friend about Christianity back in college, ended up believing in the truth about Jesus and leaving Islam. I was following him on Twitter because I knew he was smart. I certainly didn’t know he was also Youtube vlogger.
He wasn’t, but had become one, unexpectedly, after receiving word that in him was a stomach cancer in its final and most aggressive form. If he wanted to live, he would have to fight. So he waged war. And I waged war. And everyone who had loved Nabeel and heard of his diagnosis waged war – on our knees, with our swords of the Spirit.
Following Nabeel’s vlogs and Twitter updates had caused me to grow close with him. In every video I was learning things about him — his humble demeanor, his big smile, his slight lisp. And with every “yes” and “amen” to his closing prayers I was deepening in my love for him. He was becoming my brother, and I was his sister in the faith.
So when I had checked my phone on the evening of September 16th, my heart dropped.
I guess I just didn’t think that Nabeel could actually die. Just a week before he passed, he released a video update mentioning that he was in his final stages, in “palliative care,” and that he was in great need of prayer – great need of a miracle.
I had shared that video and was making my requests known to the Father on his behalf. He was on my heart and on my mind, but what hadn’t made its way to my mind was the thought of him possibly dying.
But he died and I immediately mourned. I was in a hotel room on my knees mourning. But this grieving process wasn’t at all what I had imagined it would be. It was strange. It was wholehearted sorrow and uncontainable joy.
In my mourning I began to pray. And as I began to pray, my thoughts were interrupted by a beautiful vision. I began to imagine heaven – with Nabeel there, kneeling before Jesus. And Jesus, in all of His Majesty, with all of the saints and angels surrounding Him, crowning Nabeel with the crown of Life. It was a glorious sight. And as I snapped out of my little Raven Baxter moment, a euphoric laughter began to flow from me.
Someone I had cared about had just died. How the heck was I laughing?
In his article, Death: Shall We Weep or Rejoice?, John Piper says that “Sorrow and joy are not merely sequential. They are simultaneous. This is not emotional schizophrenia. This is the complex harmony of the Christian soul.”
See, the scene where I was in my hotel room crying, with a heavy heart, and yet giggling, with all glee, was not me painting a picture of what it looks like to be emotionally confused, but rather an outward expression of my soul’s inward rejoicing.
But still, someone had died. How could I possibly rejoice?
Well, that is because the one who had died knew the One who, for his sins, had died, that he may live. And that One, Jesus, promised us this:
That, “If anyone keeps [His] words, he will never see death” (John 8:51).
This is the same Jesus who also said “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
Though Nabeel died, he did not see death, for, while he was alive in the earth, he had said yes to Jesus Christ, who is Life. When his body died, his soul saw Jesus. For this reason, I rejoice.
But this isn’t just true for Nabeel, for Jesus said “if anyone.”
And “if anyone” would dare to live and believe in Jesus, then “everyone who lives and believes in [Jesus] shall never die.”
Do you grasp this?
Because if you do, there are still two remaining things to be grasped.
The first is this: you don’t have to die.
And the next is this: joy can come in the mourning.
Losing a loved one is heart wrenching. It often feels lonely. It often feels like life is not worth living. This is real and this is true. But in Christ, sorrow is short-lived. Sorrow is inevitable after the loss of a loved one but through Christ, “the sorrow [can be] softened with invincible hope.”
This is a hope that is more palpable than our very being.
This is a hope that “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
This is a hope that we will not perish, but will one day see “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17). That, though our bodies lay to waste, we ourselves will be “transformed…from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).
Our bodies will someday face the agony of death, but our souls do not have to. Christ already defeated death, once, for all, for “whoever believes.” And believe me, this victory in life is worth rejoicing in.