GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–The news shocked me — the remains of nearly 300 bodies had been discovered on the grounds of a northwest Georgia crematory, some languishing in a field for as long as 15 years. News reports said most of the bodies might never be identified.
I never expected to counsel anyone about this tragedy. I’m a financial consultant, not a pastor. Yet days after this sad story made American headlines I received a desperate e-mail from a longtime client.
In separate but sad situations, my client had sent the bodies of her adult son and her sister to the Tri-State Crematory in the mid-1990s.
Though a committed Christian, my client was despondent, nauseated and in severe emotional distress. She was aware that I had a deep relationship with God and she turned to me for words of comfort.
Knowing she was in difficult, grotesque pain, I spent time that night and early the next morning in prayer and study of God’s Word before sending her this message:
“The tragic death of your son and sister were hard enough wounds to bear without those wounds being reopened by the greed of this insensitive crematorium. I cannot pretend to imagine the horror you must feel about the possibility that your loved ones were perhaps not cremated and their actual remains returned to you.
“First I would like to share that my thoughts on ‘where the body is’ are not just academic. As you know, my parents had severe mental and emotional problems. They abandoned me at age 3 and I lived the next 14 years of my life in an orphanage.
“I never saw my father again. He lived another 25 years and died in a mental hospital. His body is buried in Georgia. My mother was in and out of mental hospitals and died in a halfway house in Chicago when I was 23. Her body was ‘handled’ as a pauper’s body by the city of Chicago. I don’t know where it is.
“My wonderful, but poor and simple grandmother in Chicago died a pauper as well and had willed her body to a medical school. I don’t know what they did with it after their medical studies. I don’t know where my father and mother were spiritually; they were so confused mentally and emotionally. My grandmother loved Jesus.
“I share this so you understand I have reflected on some of the issues of how to feel about a body unaccounted for. That is what I am sharing with you now.
“Please read the Scriptures I am referencing but I will not type them here for brevity.
“My immediate thoughts for you were that you feel like a Psalms 102:1-11 and a Psalms 22:14-15 person right now, your heart like wax and your strength dried up.
“Yet a Psalms 22 person can also be a 23rd Psalms person. You have been suddenly, unexpectedly, and without warning or preparation tossed down again in the valley of the shadow of death of your son and sister. We naturally fear shadows for we know not what evil lies within. We naturally fear the darkness; we fear not knowing; we fear what may be in the shadow of the valley of death.
“Even so, a 23rd Psalms person also can claim that God is with them. God may not remove you quickly from these shadows, but he promises to be with you in these shadows.
“We do know that the physical body is not the ‘person.’ James 2:26 reminds us the body without the spirit is dead. The spirit has departed. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:25 that the body is more than clothing, which is also his way of saying that the physical body is not who we are.
“Jesus also warned us not to fear those that can kill the body but fear those that can kill the soul (Matthew 10:28). Jesus was clear: the body is not the soul, it is not the ‘spirit’ of your loved ones. 1 Corinthians 15: 35-57 lets us know that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God but that the perishable body is raised an imperishable body, that the natural body is raised a spiritual body.
“Finally, and most importantly, please embrace, cling to and claim Romans 8:38-39. Nothing can separate you, your son or your sister from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Cast your anxieties on him, for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7); lift up your eyes to the Lord from whom comes your help (Psalms 121), for he will not abandon you but promises that he will be there for you (John 14:18.).
“I grieve for you, I cry for you, I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers in this difficult time. I hope God has led me in some way to help.”
It’s been several weeks since this news broke. While it has passed from the headlines, it remains all too fresh in the hearts of the thousands affected by it.
In addition, for me and every believer in Christ, I think the lesson of this scandal also applies far into the future. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to be ready to give a defense for the hope that lives within us. By implication, that applies to every situation where people are struggling and searching for answers.
The next time tragedy strikes — and it will, as sure as the sun rises in the east — are you going to be ready to share the hope that lives within you? Through prayer and diligent Bible study, all Christians need to be ready to share our hope when the opportunity or need in another’s life arises.
Rob Mitchell, from Greensboro, N.C., is a financial consultant with a major brokerage firm and the CBMC (Christian Business Men’s Committee) metro leader for a four-county region.