Friday, October 12, 2007

Four Funerals in Ten Weeks

Between July 14 and September 26, we attended four funerals. The first funeral was for Wendy’s dad, killed by an incredibly rare form of cancer. The second funeral was for the mother of Wendy’s friend Heather who was also killed by cancer. Both of these adults were in their sixties and died entirely too young from a disheartening enemy that relentlessly pursued them. The third funeral was for a young man, 24 years old, who had committed suicide. The fourth funeral was for a full-term infant who died in her mother’s womb two days before the due date, apparently by strangulation from the umbilical cord.

It is no small thing to see this much death in so short a period. These four deaths spanned the spectrum of age, from the very youngest to the gray headed. The forms of death were heartbreaking: cancer, suicide, and unfortunate accident. What can be said to the spouse (of either couple) whose marriage was ended just shy of their fortieth anniversary? What do you say to the mother and father whose brilliant but depressed son completely lost hope? What do you say to the expectant mother whose baby isn’t moving any more, yet still has to give birth? What do you say to the baby’s father as he carries – by himself – the coffin out of the funeral/worship service into the waiting hearse?

This summer God displayed to Wendy and me, in a unique way, that God is the giver of life. And even more distinctly that he is the taker. Job, upon hearing that all ten of his children were killed in a horrendous wind storm worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:20). Job attributed what to him was a natural disaster to God. God had taken away his children. Not the wind, not bad construction, not fate, but God.

Some of you might be incensed at what I am writing and say that God didn’t kill Job’s kids, Satan did. Yes, but I am still ultimately saying that God killed Job’s children. However, I am only repeating to you what Job said. He said, “The LORD has taken away.” What else could that mean, but that God killed Job’s children? Now, before you throw this newsletter away, read v21, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” That is an astonishing sentence. That sentence should rock your world and change your understanding of God forever. God is not a pansy God who is not in complete control of all things. God, who created all things through Christ and for Christ, will do whatever is necessary to display his glory the brightest and give his children the greatest joy – even unto death.

Do you believe in Job’s God?

I watched Abraham Piper carry his baby down the aisle, after having worshiped with him for the last hour. With tears rolling down my face, I asked myself, what would my reaction be if Wendy or one of the kids or both were in a coffin? Would I be angry with God? Would I walk away from my faith? Would my faith deepen? Would I be able to say, with Abraham Piper, Jesus does all things well?

It is impossible for me to predict how I would answer those questions. I am not facing those situations now. Someday I will face something similar. Right now, I believe God will give me the grace to face whatever situation will someday occur. It will not be easy. It will be brutally hard, and will shake my faith to the core. Lord willing, he will bring me through with faith intact.

When we try to contemplate a God who gives and takes away, we must remember that this very same God gave his only son for a people who had utterly abandoned him. This God willingly sent his son to his death, but more than that, he crushed his own son so that his justice would be fulfilled and we might go free. Isaiah wrote about this very thing:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:4-6).

The rest of this story is contained in the reaction of those closest to the four deceased. All four families worshiped. Wendy’s mom worshiped. Heather and her family worshiped. The parents of Luke worshiped. Abraham and Molly worshiped. They all worshiped the God who gives and who takes away. I know they have questioned and struggled and wept and were angry. So did Job. But none of them faltered. They are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor 6:10).

Job’s God is enough.

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