Some of you may have heard of my old friend, Gregg Kerr, who died a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, I was privileged to visit with his family before the funeral. I was so happy to see how many people came in attendance.
Although I wondered, if the same number of people had expressed more concern and desire to help him in life, would he have met such a premature death? He was only 37 years old. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to stay or what opportunity I’d have for ministering, so I wrote a note which I was able to give to Gregg’s younger sisters and his parents.
He’s In a Better Place – By Michael Coughlin
“He’s in a better place.” Isn’t that the ‘rally cry’ of mourners and comforters? I mean, there really is no greater comfort when a loved one has died than to imagine an afterlife full of joy and peace and a distinct absence of the worries of this world. Even someone who denies an afterlife, someone with an atheistic point of view would consider non-existence better than the pains and trials this world has to offer.
But before we pull out trite clichés, we must ask ourselves, “Is Gregg in a better place?” Why would we want to comfort ourselves if not with the truth? Humor me with an analogy. Imagine going to a doctor and being tested for cancer. Your two friends go with you. You cannot bear to read the results.
Friend #1 opens the envelope, reads that you have cancer, and turns to you and hugs you and says, “It’s alright; you’re going to be OK.”
“Do I have cancer?” you reply?
“No, of course not,” friend #1 tells you, knowing that you’ll be crushed by the reality of your condition.
Shortly after, friend #2 approaches. He wraps his arms around you and tells you, “We will fight this together.”
“Do I have cancer?” you reply?
“Oh my dear friend, yes. But do not despair; for there is hope for a cure and there is fellowship in the sharing of this trial,” friend #2 tells you.
At this point, you would likely be angry with friend #1. Think about it. First, he lied to you. Second, you realize that the empty truth-less words of comfort he provided are really no comfort at all. Sure, you may understand your friend #1’s point of view and forgive his lie, but you can’t possibly think his method of counsel was actually helpful! Yes, we would all hope to be the friend #2, helpful, loyal, faithful and comforting amidst the trial, not merely through denial of the trial.
Yes, that is what it is like with loved ones and death. We yearn that the truth would be that they are in a better place, and the thought of the alternative offers enough fright that we cannot bear it. Often, to save us from our own woes, we simply pull out the “he’s in a better place” card and lay it on the table. Usually, we know that we don’t actually know. If we thought deeply about it, (which we are not prone to do in this circumstance), we would realize we are being friend #1 to ourselves. The emptiness this brings can be devastating.
But what if I told you that Gregg is, in fact, in a better place – but not for the reasons you think he is? Would that interest you at all? I hope so, for such is the point of this note.
Because I dearly care about you, and even more so because of my love for Gregg: my old and recent friend, I want to tell you about what happened in the last couple years of his life. I want you to know of the tangible hope that Gregg had, that I have – and that you can share. I want you to be actually comforted.
In 2009, I felt a great need to contact Gregg. I wrote him a letter in the facility where he was staying and I shared with him the gospel of Jesus Christ: more on that later. He read my letter and responded. We corresponded a little (I wish it had been more), and over the next 4 years were able to re-enjoy our friendship a little. I recall talking to him after Josh died. I always wished I had more time for him on the phone, or that I had lived closer. I remember hearing from Vanessa (Gregg’s sister) of their improved relationship and was so glad.
Gregg was a great guy, we know. He was a dear friend. He was so loving and tender-hearted. I remember being amazed that he was my friend because I felt like such a loser, but around Gregg I always felt cool and liked. He had that way about him. He didn’t elevate himself by putting other people down. He was just … Gregg. He was himself. He was funny, a great conversationalist, and I recall his blue eyes. I remember my teenage boy jealousy about how girls would talk about how great his eyes were. But, frankly, we were such good friends, I don’t really remember ever being truly envious of him.
So is Gregg in Heaven because he was such a great guy? Let’s be honest. Gregg wasn’t perfect. We all know the Gregg who was great, but also the Gregg who had a dark side. We are burying him at 37, and it isn’t because he was killed for his righteousness. And you know what I can tell you? Gregg wouldn’t mind me saying this. In fact, he would want me to share this with you. Gregg didn’t have any faith in his own righteousness. Gregg trusted the righteousness of another. You see: Gregg came to realize (as did I a few years earlier), that his best efforts to make up for his sins against a holy God were futile. This came easily to men like me and Gregg, in a sense. We were men who had exhausted the world’s pleasures. We had “tried everything” to the extent that we were no longer fun, acceptable, social party-ers. Gregg and I each crossed a line where other adults looked upon us with disdain. We were ashamed, and we knew we’d done wrong.
So when the message of God’s perfect holiness and how we’d fallen short of God’s standard came to us, this wasn’t too shocking. I had no doubt that I deserved Hell from God, neither did Gregg. We didn’t really think of ourselves as “good people.” And, in the eyes of our Creator, we weren’t good people!
But God, because He is not only full of justice, but full of mercy and grace had a plan to redeem lost souls like us. God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ into the world. Now Jesus was born of a virgin as predicted by the Old Testament. He lived a sinless life, never once lying, cheating, stealing, lusting or coveting. He never put anything above God the Father in this world. But Jesus was killed. I’m sure you know the story. Suffered and died and was buried for three days for the forgiveness of sins. Then 3 days later, He miraculously rose from the grave, defeating death!
We know the story. Gregg and I knew the story from our youth. But it isn’t just a story. It is true history. And it isn’t just something to know, like trivia, or your address. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is something for sinners to cling to in order to be forgiven. When Jesus was on that cross – He was punished as if He had done all the wrong things Gregg and I had done! In the Bible, God is clear that anyone who trusts by faith alone in the righteousness of Christ for their salvation will be saved. It is not enough to believe facts about Jesus. It is an act of faith to truly trust him like you would a parachute when jumping from a plane. You would cling to it for dear life and you would throw off any weight that caused you to fall quicker.
So all that is to say this: Gregg confessed to me that he trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. Gregg discussed theology with me and continually held tight to the confession of faith that only Jesus could save him. There seemed to be a true work of the Holy Spirit in his life. No longer trusting in His own works, Gregg was born again at some point. He did strive to show his gratitude to God by living a better life, but he failed. I would propose to you that God took Gregg home and that Gregg is, in fact, due to faith in Christ, in a better place.
So what does this all mean? Well, Gregg wants you to go there too when you die. Gregg wants everyone he every loved to go there; be sure of that. And so do I. So I share this letter with you out of duty to my friend who I know would want you to join him praising and worshiping God. Gregg would not want us to exalt him or sugarcoat his life as if he was a really straight and narrow guy who made a few mistakes. Gregg, like you and I, was a sinner desperately in need of a Savior – and I praise God he was found.
You are free to contact me to discuss these matters further. Please know you are in my prayers and I love your family. I hope you consider me as genuine as friend #2 who said, “But do not despair for there is hope for a cure and there is fellowship in the sharing of this trial.”
With love – Michael Coughlin