Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Job 13:15a (ESV)
I am composing this entry for July between Father’s Day and the date of our son’s birthday (29July). I have written before on the death of our son, Andrew, after a six year valiant battle against cancer. This season on the calendar is difficult, as all parents who have buried children will understand. Andrew was our only child. That person who made me a father is gone, so I struggle with this day every year. And the culture, as well as the church, pays little recognition on these Hallmark holidays to moms and dads who mourn the loss of a child.
Job’s words in 13:15a have always grabbed my attention. My son wrote this as a life verse in his high school yearbook his senior year. Was Job a triumphalist? Did he have a stupid grin plastered on his face as he uttered these words after burying all ten of his children and looking over the carnage of what used to be his vast wealth? Of course not. I suspect he was inconsolable as he looked upward to his Creator, eyes blurred from the tears, despondent over his losses, yet trusting that God is still in charge and that He is not helpless among the wreckage of Job’s life. I have uttered Job’s words many times since Andrew’s death, and never without tears.
Does Grieving Over Loss Somehow Negate our Testimony?
Part of what has prompted me to write this is a recent discussion with a person who also experienced the death of a child. This person was concerned that when they share their story that they not be too overwhelmed with grief and emotion, lest the audience question their trust of God. On the contrary, to shed tears, to replace one tearful memory of their dead child with another tearful memory should be the hallmark of the follower of Christ. Of all people, Christians should know how to properly grieve. We should demonstrate to the world that we can be broken and at the same time have a joy within because of the promises of the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 21:4). We must grieve, but not as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
I want to look at another example from Scripture of suffering in the life of the believer. It is the story of the conversion of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. Paul and Silas were imprisoned for preaching the gospel. They were beaten with rods, placed in stocks, and thrown into prison (16:24). In verse 25 Luke tells his readers that around midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God. Listen to how one pastor speaks of this experience: “Paul & Silas were praising God I don’t believe because they felt like it. Do you? Their backs were laid open, their feet were manacled into the stocks. Do you think they looked at each other and asked how they felt? How do you feel, Paul? Feel like a little praise time? Paul—I feel as bad as I have ever felt my entire life. Silas says, ‘Is God still God, Paul?’ ‘Well, yes He is.’ ‘Is He still worthy of our praise, Paul?’ ‘Yes He is.’ ‘Didn’t you write to one of the churches and tell them that they ought to be thankful in all circumstances?’ ‘Yes I did.’ ‘Well don’t you think that irrespective of how we are feeling that we ought to give ourselves wholeheartedly to worshipping Him?’ So they break into song. And the other prisoners were listening to them. A living example of Job 13:15a in the midst of pain.
Paul knew better than most that it is not human achievements that showcase the grace of God. It is human helplessness. Despite all of his attainments, Paul viewed himself as the foremost of sinners. Apart from God’s grace in giving him the free gift of Christ’s righteousness, all of Paul’s achievements were rubbish. Far from faith being a crutch for the weak, when someone steps out to walk on the path of faith, they need a strength beyond themselves, they need to rely on the power of God. Biblical faith puts great demands on all who are prepared to embrace it. There can be only one reason for the believer to endure in the crucible of affliction—behind their faith lies the greatest of strength, so strong that it has overcome death.
We Walk By Faith and Not by Sight
We are left without an explanation for suffering—there are no words. We can only place ourselves in God’s hands and await His eternal explanation. Remember the words of Jesus in John 13:7, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” I suspect that our Father prefers that we set as our goal obedience without asking for a reason. And in our obedience, the true, raw emotion of grief and weeping are more than permitted, they are expected. The book of Job proclaims that we live by faith, and 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.
I have given up on attempting to view our experiences as God views them. Someday He will enable me to see as He does, but for now I must affirm what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 11:5, that we do not know the work of God who makes everything. I have learned that the deepest & most serious questions of our lives are written in our pain and grief. The explanation will have to wait until we see Jesus. God does not explain the reasons for the ways in which He deals with us in time, but someday He will unveil His perfect wisdom to us. We cannot trace His hand but we trust His heart (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Are tears and deep sadness part of the grieving process for the believer? You bet they are. Are they consistent with trusting and hoping in God no matter what the circumstances of our life? Absolutely. Is this consistent with our witness? They have to be if the One upon whom we are dependent wept at the tomb of His friend, Lazarus.
If you would indulge me to share what an 11 year old wrote about the death of my son, I think it will be clear that the only response is tears as well as gratitude to God for a life well lived to His glory. This young boy had a sister and brother who attended high school with my son.
“On one average day for Andrew Benecke something terrible struck. He was diagnosed with cancer. For many holidays that he visited I tried to be grateful and enjoy his presence but it is so hard to agree that he might and probably will be gone soon. I just couldn’t find hope for such a dark thing. If I was in his position I would mope around and wonder, why me. That is not Andrew. The one thing Andrew never lost was hope. I walk into my mom’s room and see her crying. My heart skips a beat and I whisper out, ‘Andrew?’ She shakes her head. Before I know it I’m crying also. He lived a fourth of an average life. It just isn’t fair. Except life isn’t fair at all. Why? I felt like I was standing in an ocean watching a wave swallow me up. Sadness turned to tiredness and soon I am fast asleep. The next day was so strange and melancholy. After such a loss the world kept on going. It was just so wrong. His death soon seemed to be a painful gift. His strength turned to inspiration and I have learned so much. This knowledge is found by love and experience.”
My wife and I are broken, yet not paralyzed (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). We thank God that He blessed with this wonderful son—even for such a short season—who continues to touch lives with the gospel of Christ. “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God’.” Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.
Blessings in the Lord Jesus,