Life After Death
In the First Reading, Isaiah dates a religious vision not by a day but by a death: “ … in the year that King Uzziah died.”
There are some things so painful for a person that events in his life can be dated by them: “in the year my son died.” A hard death of this sort divides a whole life into before and after: there is the life you had before your child died, and then there is the life you have afterwards, after the death of your hopes and dreams for that child.
Sometimes in unbearable grief such as that stemming from the death of someone so loved, a person doesn’t know how to stand under his sorrow. A heartbroken person has lost something central to him; and a person can fall apart when the center doesn’t hold.
In those circumstances, a grieved and suffering person can want to die then too; he can want to come to the Lord too. When King Uzziah died, Isaiah came before the Lord, but only in a vision, where the doorposts shook and the house filled up with smoke.
The problem is that you can’t really come to the Lord before your time on earth is over, and falling apart under grief gets you only an increase of sorrow. Isaiah responded to that vision of the Lord by saying “Woe is me! I am doomed!”
This is not the end of the story for Isaiah, though. An angel seared Isaiah’s mouth with a burning coal. And then Isaiah opened his mouth and offered to serve the Lord. When God asked, “whom shall I send?” Isaiah said, “Here I am. Send me.” All his most important service for the Lord came after the death that dates his vision.
When Isaiah himself finally died and came to the Lord, three kings later, he had become the foremost prophet of Israel. Because in the end he didn’t fall apart but lived after King Uzziah’s death, he produced the great prophecies of the Messiah that even now give the whole world hope.
If you can stand under your sorrow, rather than falling apart, then through the searing grief can come a new life, that was unimaginable to you before. If you can stand and live into the period of your life after the destruction of your heart’s desire, then God’s grace can bring life out of death for you.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University