“Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9, ESV).
This past week I was introduced to two moms who had experienced every parent’s nightmare: the death of a child. Knowing that they would be facing their first Mother’s Day without their son or daughter causes me great sorrow; a sorrow we know all too well on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Though some of the pain of watching my son suffer through 6 years of cancer has ever so slightly eased, my longing for him has only increased.
It is clear that it may be a very long time before we are reunited in the presence our Lord. I find myself not being terribly fond of a life without my son. That is not to say that there is no meaning or joy in my life for there most certainly is. But my life (and Barb’s) is a life that has been stretched by the pain of the loss of a child, and it will never return to its original shape.
It is not the trajectory we would have selected for our life — childless, without ever the hope for grandchildren. Andrew brought such incredible joy and brightness into our lives. What we lack and miss with his absence is immeasurable. But I am reminded of what someone of far greater intellect than I once said: “If I were given God’s power for one day, Oh, the things that I would change. But if I were also given His wisdom, I would leave everything as it is.”
Weep With Those Who Weep
We have found ourselves thrust into a ministry of bereavement. It is not a task for the faint or weary. Hard questions still arise: Why did this happen to your son? How could God possibly be glorified in the death of a child? The answers lie in the “not yet” dimension of the Christian life. So many who know the pain of loss turn everywhere for answers except to the one place where the only hope lies — the foot of the cross.
I am thankful that my understanding of God is not limited to the experience of grief in the death of my son. Were that the case, I would not know enough about God to realize that He is good, and that I can trust Him in the darkest of circumstances. I am grateful that I know enough about God that I can trust Him in areas which I do not understand. Spiritual conviction, born in the light of Christ, carries us in the darkness.
Even a casual reading of the Bible will point the reader to numerous laments by the writers of Scripture: “Awake, O Lord! Why do You sleep?…Why do you hide Your face and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:23, 24); “Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save?” (Jeremiah 14:9); “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
How does the Bible answer such laments? Usually with silence. Consider Job, that unfortunate man who deserved suffering the least yet endured it the most. He finally got his requested audience with God who responded with His longest recorded speech. Though giving Job a tour of the created order in magnificent poetry, God never addressed the “Why?”. Listen to the words of one writer: “God doesn’t explain. He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway. He says that trying to explain the kind of things Job wants explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a clam. God doesn’t reveal His grand design. He reveals Himself.”
So it is with most of the writers of Scripture. They do not ask or answer the issue of bad things happening to good people. They viewed this world as enemy territory, a spoiled planet ruled by the father of lies, the wizard of woes. What else should we expect from Satan’s lair? In the crucible of suffering, it is more important to be driven to Christ than to be driven to explanation. As a believer I place my only hope in a time when death, the last enemy, will be destroyed. When God will sort out evil from good and death from life and resurrect bodies and souls in a final resolution: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
The book of Job proclaims that we live by faith, and that faith is surrounded by mystery. Reason gropes in the dark for answers. Faith reaches beyond the darkness to God. God did not give Job the answer to the problem of suffering. But He taught Job the proper attitude — that of complete trust in God despite of all the incentives to the contrary. There is no facile answer to the problem of unmerited suffering in a world created and presided over by the righteous and just God. Faith, I have come to conclude, means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.
God’s Sufficient Grace
Barb and I continue to walk through the tear-stained darkness of the valley of the shadow of death. We have learned to put our only trust in the One who has conquered sin and death. And though we know and completely trust that His grace is sufficient, and that we have seen His power perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), we also know, as I have stated before, His grace is not anesthetic. The pain of those five weeks of hospice as our son’s life ebbed away is still real and powerful.
I will never forget one of the darkest moments, a moment of near despair, when I realized that our existence had been reduced to giving our son morphine through an eyedropper to ease his pain. And we have not found the answer to the question of human suffering. That will have to wait. We have not found the why of human suffering, but we have found the only One who can make it bearable.
In near despair I remembered Jesus asking the twelve if they, like others, were going to abandon Him. Peter’s response continues to ring in my ears: “Where would we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life. You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69). We are perplexed but not in despair (2 Corinthians 4:8).
The final resolution of the problems of this world lies beyond death. Human suffering for which there is no satisfactory explanation has been shared by our Redeemer in His atoning death on the cross (Isaiah 53:4, 5). Christ experienced the darkest night of the soul anyone could ever experience. He went to the uttermost, physical and emotion pain so great that He sweat drops of blood, something I have never done and will probably never do. In this way, He identifies with us in our suffering. We have a Great High Priest who can and does sympathize with us in our afflictions.
But beyond anything I will ever have to experience, Jesus endured the absolute agony of bearing the penalty for my sin. In doing so, He has provided the solution for pain and suffering. If you know Him as your personal Lord and Savior you have been liberated from the bondage and penalty of sin and death. And you are heir to this great promise: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things have passed away” (Revelation 21:5). But if you are looking for the answer to these ponderous questions in yoga, meditation, cultural psychology — anywhere but the cross of Christ — you will be led to despair, disappointment, and disillusionment, but most importantly to eternal separation from the God who can heal you.
Yours in Christ,