I was asked by a friend for some advice about holding on to God through the
loss of a friend. I've removed the personal indicators, but I thought the body
of the letter might be of some use to others:
It’s hard to give “one-size-fits-all” advice about keeping God’s character and purposes in perspective, but there are some basics that we must cultivate in the good times so that when tragedy strikes, we have a Rock to stand on. Tragedy and loss will hit every family if we live long enough. It is possible to grow a theology of suffering in the midst of suffering, but it is much harder. All things are possible with God, however.
I was asked to share at our Baptist association's regional convention in May. I took the opportunity to tell the pastors there to prepare their people to die well. That might sound morbid to some, but is there anything else more important that a pastor can do?
I don’t know you well enough to know what you’ve been doing to prepare your heart for the shocks of this fallen, broken world. The message in much of popular Christianity is “happy, happy, happy,” but that’s not realistic, or biblical. I know you know that much, but in the past couple of years – even before Emily’s death – Juanita and I have been growing in our awareness of our own sin and the brokenness of the world. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. The Bible teaches on suffering so much.
My testimony regarding keeping – and growing – my faith in the midst of loss boils down to this: 1. God is much bigger than I thought He was, and, 2. My sin is much worse than I ever considered. God is good. Because He is good, my sinful soul and body deserve Hell. Anything less than that is mercy. I am a sinner. Sinners die. That’s justice. That I would be transformed and live with a resurrected, perfected body with Christ forever is a mystery and an unspeakable wonder! The suffering and death in this world is the result of man’s rebellion against God. That evil is the “normal” of a fallen world. The joy of salvation, comfort in suffering, and the hope of eternal life are all gracious gifts from our good and loving God. The cross proves the evil of my sin and the love of God simultaneously.
The early church was accused of preaching a message that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). That’s not quite it. The enemies of the Christians got it wrong. The world is upside down. Christians preach right-side-up, and the world doesn’t like it. The key to getting this is the cross of Christ. This is where we find God’s love, life and assurance. Christ has risen, and so shall we rise.
When you’re overwhelmed and angry at God, turn to the Psalms. They give us permission to express a wide range of emotions to God. Start with Psalms 42, 46, 62 and 73. Then look again to the cross. See the end of the Gospels and also Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Also check out Isaiah 59. You’ll get a better appreciation of the depths of human sin and the extreme lengths that was willing to go to God in order to bring us forgiveness and the gift of righteousness.