August 1, 1991 Issue
by Taylor A. Joyce

Some 300 mourners crowded into the small chapel for Jim's (not his real name) funeral service. A young man  attired like one of the beat generation announced the three songs with which the service would begin. "Jim is gone." The words were choked with emotion. "He always said when it was time for him to leave this world, he wanted to leave it rockin'." Having introduced what he said were Jim's favorite songs, he raised his hand in a closed fist salute and rejoined relatives in the family room.

The songs, of course, had nothing to do with religion. The first one was hard rock. There was another rock song and a ballad. The music was loud and the lyrics almost unintelligible. A young woman in a pew in front of me moved her head to the beat of the music. The pall-bearers, all dressed in T-shirts and jeans, dabbed their eyes. An older man walked down the aisle, placed his hand on the flag-draped coffin briefly, turned and retraced his steps.

When the preacher finally began to speak, he made no mention of any church affiliation or of faith in Christ. He punctuated his comments with the admonition of Amos 4:12, "Prepare to meet thy God." A young lady with tattoos on her back and shoulders, visible around the edges of a halter top, seemed to pay no attention. There was no evidence that any of Jim's friends were paying attention, although I suspected that the preacher's comments were, with the family's permission, directed at them.

Jim, just three weeks shy of his 25th birthday, died in a tragic automobile accident. He was a passenger in a vehicle which failed to negotiate a curve and plunged 200 feet down an embankment in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. It was 1:30 in the morning, and the driver, obviously intoxicated, walked away from the scene without telling investigators that there had been a passenger. Jim's groan led to his discovery, but it was too late. He had been thrown through the windshield and into a tree. He will forever be 24.

Here was a young man who commanded fierce loyalties, but who also left in his wake a trail of tears. Twice married, he left behind a widow and an ex-wife and child. He also left a criminal record as testimony to a lifestyle of flouting authority and living by his own rules.

The family and friends were now experiencing heartbreak for which there could never be healing. Here was pain that could not be assuaged. Theirs was a sorrow without hope.

The poignancy reminded me of Paul's statement: "None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself." (Rom 14:7)1 wondered how many times Jim had diverted wise counsel against his lifestyle by saying, "I'm not hurting anyone but myself." He was wrong, so very wrong. Perhaps, while he was alive he failed to notice the hurt he caused others. He was too busy rockin'. And now, his own death made him insensitive to the awful hurt the mourners felt.

There was such a stark contract between Jim's departure and that of the biblical saints. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" cried Balaam. (Num 23:10) "Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. (Gen 25:8) "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Psa 116:15) "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me..." (Psal 23:4)

If those are the two choices --"Let me leave rockin"' or "Let me die the death of the righteous" -- I choose the latter. How do you want to go?

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