Those who know me well would say that “speechless” is not a descriptor often directed at me. I have ideas about a lot of things and occasionally some insight. But the past two weeks have brought events that have left me stunned, numb and speechless.
I have been friends with Dr. Steve Wilkes for many years. We served together as “Ranger Steve” and “Ranger Dave” in church youth ministry with our sons. His son Paul was a constant fixture around our house for many years. His wife Debbie was a loving mom who nurtured Paul and his little sister Amy to become amazing adults. Our lives followed the trajectory of many friendships. Different schools, different churches and different seasons of life allowed us to drift apart. But my respect for this family never changed.
I heard the first bit of sad news two weeks ago that Steve said goodbye to his beloved wife Debbie after a long and difficult cancer battle. This past week and just two weeks after burying his wife he learned that his precious youngest child died in her sleep. Two funerals in two weeks. Your wife and youngest child both gone just days apart. How can one family endure such shock and pain? Why should one family have to deal with more in two horrible weeks than some deal with in a lifetime? What can you possibly say to them that could help one iota?
At times like this I go to God’s Word and to people who have “been there”. I have suffered some in my life and I will tell you that words from those who have not been through the fires are well meaning but empty platitudes. Those who have endured the fires can speak to me in those moments. I hope they can speak to my friend Steve and his family.
Jesus warned that there would be suffering in our lives. He made no attempt to claim that following Him would be all green lights and blue skies. In the Gospel of John Jesus makes it clear.
“In the world you will have tribulation”. (ESV)
Straight up. Not that you may have tribulation. Nothing about if you sin you might bring on tribulation. You will have tribulation. It is part of this world. He does not leave us there and we will come back later to His promise.
In May of 2008 Christian singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman's five year old daughter Maria was run over and killed on the family property. Her teen-aged brother did not see her playing in the driveway before she was struck. It was a tragedy of unspeakable sadness. I remember that my first thought was how could God allow this to happen to a couple who have done so much for the body of Christ? Chapman used his music to explore the raw emotions of loss in an unbelievably honest work called “Beauty Will Rise”. One song came to mind as I tried to process my friend’s loss this week. The song is titled “Questions” and it completely captures my struggle.
Who are You God
For You are turning out to be
So much different than I imagined
And where are you God
Cuz I am finding life to be
So much harder than I had planned
These are the questions that most of us ask when we face crushing sadness. We believe He is sovereign and yet this world is flooded with sadness.
Like How could you God
How could You be so good and strong
And make a world that can be so painful
Paul writes to the Church in Rome and offers this insight about suffering on earth.
For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering. (Romans 8, NLT)
I will be honest. I don’t relish that theology. But I do hold onto the promise that comes out of my trust.
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
I believe that. That is my hope. That is what gets me through my own tragedy and the tragedies that befalls friends and family. Steven Curtis Chapman writes about that trust in these lyrics.
You know that I'm confused
By all this mystery
You know I get afraid
But if you know my heart
As completely as I trust you do
Oh you know that I trust in you
So here I am today. Confused. Afraid. Seeking truth in His Word. In John’s Gospel many decided the path was too hard so they deserted Jesus. The question Christ posed to His Apostles resonated today.
Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”
Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”
Indeed. Where would I go? So I hold on. I trust. I believe that this suffering is temporary before a greater glory. I hurt fully and honestly. I cry out. But I also hold on to the rest of the promise mentioned earlier. When Jesus said that there would be tribulation in this world He mercifully did not stop there.
“But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
That is my hope. That is my comfort. I pray that will be the hope and comfort of my friends as well.