Reprinted by permission from Believer’s Magazine
Nothing prepares you for the loss of a child, be he four years, or as in our case forty-four years. It is not in the natural order of things, although many are called to walk through this particular “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23:4). David, the writer of those words, lost a rebellious son and cried, “O my son, Absalom … would God I had died for thee” (2 Sam 18:33). He experienced, despite Absalom’s waywardness, the depths of a father’s love for his son (or daughter), and demonstrated the overwhelming grief that grips the soul on such occasions, even though we “sorrow not, even as others, which have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13).
There are a number of feelings that quite naturally we will encounter as believers, remembering we are what God has made us, and consequently subject to the full range of human emotions. The Lord Jesus experienced sorrow: “See if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow” (Lam 1:12). He experienced heaviness of heart in Gethsemane: He “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” (Mk 14:33). He experienced loneliness there at Calvary: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mk 15:34). Before He stood before the grave of Lazarus we read that “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35).
Our blessed Lord knew what it was to feel the full range of emotions that sometimes threaten to overwhelm us. How encouraging it is to turn to Hebrews: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (4:14-16).
As He was “found in fashion as a man” (Phil 2:8), He felt these human emotions to a far greater degree than we could ever experience. So, for those who also sorrow, He reaches down from the Throne of Grace with those tender hands, to lift us up again, to give us strength for the day. Dear sorrowing saint, you are not being unspiritual, you are not necessarily lacking faith. It is not wrong to grieve. The challenge to our faith is how we deal with these emotions.
Well-meaning believers will tell you it is wrong to question God! This is so easy to say! But until any individual person has passed through such an emotionally charged experience he cannot know, nor should he seek to determine, what is right, or wrong, for others. It is a natural human response when under such intense pressure to ask or wonder, “Why?” Surely it is only the grace of God that enables us to accept that He knows best. When someone asked our son Neil, when he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, “Why you?” his response was, “Why not me?” This was not fatalism, but genuine faith and I was reminded of the events that Job experienced and yet “in all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2:10); a remarkable testimony to the faith of a man who had lost almost everything. Strong though your faith might be, however, there still remains the full range of human emotions to be dealt with.
This is a very raw emotion all too often suppressed in the western world (perhaps we’re frightened that others will think we are not spiritual enough!) which is in marked contrast to scenes presented in the media from other societies. It might be beneficial for some to express their feelings more openly, not being ashamed. However, the Lord in Luke 8:52 provides both the answer and the antidote to grief: “She is not dead, but sleepeth.” This glorious truth, and in particular the words, “This mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:53) was what sustained me as I watched our son’s coffin being lowered into the ground, with the brass plaque bearing the name we had given him forty-four years earlier.
There is an almost immediate sense of thankfulness that for the loved one called home, the suffering is over, the pain ended, with the shadows of the valley of death being replaced by the glorious light of eternity. Again the Lord’s words ring clear through the centuries: “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise” (Lk 23:43).
But! And if we are honest there is a “but.” For those who naturally mourn there is an equally natural sense of relief that the hospital visiting is over. Maybe the journey was difficult, the conditions on the ward were unpleasant; perhaps one is worn out with sleepless nights, emotionally drained with all the worry, and still having others who require care. There are pressures perhaps that no one knows but you, and also a heavenly Father Who knows, cares, and understands both our weaknesses and our strengths.
Such relief as mentioned is not a thing of which to be ashamed, for it is a natural response to the cessation of the overwhelming pressures of the previous weeks, months, or longer. It will, however, inevitably bring with it a sense of guilt for entertaining these thoughts in the first place. Even as believers we must accept that such thought processes are perfectly normal, and not an indication of selfishness or lack of spirituality. We must take comfort yet again when by faith we accept the Lord’s gracious tender words of comfort: “My peace I give unto you” (Jn 14:27).
Following the funeral, when the activity of recent days is over, comes the awful realization that things will never be the same again. The familiar footsteps will never again cross the threshold, the voice, and face which meant so much will not anymore be heard or seen in this vale of tears. In the quietness of the night seasons, the time when this emotion threatens to overwhelm us most, is when it is most important to seek comfort at the Throne of Grace, remembering the Lord’s most tender words, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn 14:1).
You will indubitably be advised at some stage – “Don’t worry, time is the great healer!” For most of those who have experienced bereavement, this is not the case. A brother who had an arm amputated said, “There isn’t a day goes by but what I am aware it’s not there, but I have learned to cope with its absence.” The wonder is that we are not expected to cope on our own; the Great Shepherd of the sheep Who went searching for the one that was lost will also carry us on the shoulders of comfort and strength. “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Is 30:15).
I have been able by the grace of God to face up to the grief, relief, guilt, and sorrow. As to loneliness, I am sure that only the widow or widower can give testimony to the depth of feeling experienced when the bed, the chair, the house is empty, and, humanly speaking, you’re on your own. The two who grieved on the road to Emmaus were comforted only when “Jesus Himself drew near” (Lk 24:15). The blind man received sight when “Jesus stood still” (Mk 10:49). In the quietness, in the stillness of an empty room, He will draw near, for He said “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5).
The Answer to “Why?”
Let us be totally frank and honest about this; the troubled heart will wonder, and be tempted to ask – “Why?” I remember asking the question when my father died at the age of sixty-three. It was some time later before the Lord graciously opened my eyes to the following truth. I was studying the life of John the Baptist and there it was. The Lord Jesus said of him, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11).
He was the last of the Old Testament prophets, physically in his prime. He was a free agent, unencumbered by earthly ties or occupation. Who then best fitted to introduce to the world, to Jew and Gentile alike, the wonderful new message of the gospel? But he was only in his thirties when God removed him from the scene. Why? He had preached the message of repentance. As the forerunner, he had presented to the world the Lamb of God! His work on earth was complete.
And so, wondering soul, this is where faith must rest. We surely believe that our God never makes a mistake. The loved one, a parent, husband, wife, brother, sister, or child, has run the divinely appointed course. Their work here is done, however brief or long. Only eternity will reveal what that work was.