A Stunned and Grieving Nation

The Las Vegas shooting has left many of us in utter shock and horror and rightly so. “Pure evil” rightly describes what happened. Personally, I cannot bear watching more than a few minutes of the television reports about it. Even the few images I have seen race around in my mind with seemingly no landing space… The whole thing is just so horrible.

As far as I know, no one I knew personally was impacted. How those who have suffered such personal loss and now grieve over the loss of loved ones are coping just now – I can only imagine… even as I ask God to bring His comfort.

In such times, where can we go to “hang our thoughts” – what can we think on to even begin to wrap our minds around what happened and start to make sense of it all? Is that even possible?

As a pastor, I think this article is a good starting point I can point people to. I hope you find it helpful.

In the meantime, we pray, asking God for His comfort for all the friends and loved ones of the deceased. As a nation, we grieve… we so need God’s help just now.

Hid with Christ in God

Dr. James White speaks on the text of Colossians 3:1-4:

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Letter to a Grieving Parent

Original article by Pastor John Piper found a grieving mother, who recently had given birth to a stillborn son, wrote to me asking for counsel and comfort. The team at Desiring God thought this letter might be helpful to some others, whether other mothers who have lost infants, parents who have lost young children, or perhaps even more broadly.

Dear _____,

This loss and sorrow is all so fresh. I hesitate to tread into the tender place and speak. But since you ask, I pray that God would help me say something helpful.

First, please know that I know I don’t know what it is like to give birth to a lifeless body. Only a small, sad band of mothers know that. I say “lifeless body” because, as you made clear, your son is not lifeless. He simply skipped earth. For now. But in the new heavens and the new earth, he will know the best of earth and all the joys earth can give without any of its sorrows.

I do not know what age — what level of maturity and development — he will have in that day. I don’t know what level of maturity and development I will have. Will the 25-year-old or the 35- or the 45- or the 55-year-old John Piper be the risen one? God knows what is optimal for the spiritual, glorified body. And so it will be for your son. But you will know him. God will see to that. And he you. And he will thank you for giving him life. He will thank you for enduring the loss that he might have the reward sooner.

God’s crucial word on grieving well is 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Yours is a grieving with hope. Theirs is a grieving without hope. That is the key difference. There is no talk of not grieving. That would be like suggesting to a woman who just lost her arm that she not cry, because it would be put back on in the resurrection. It hurts! That’s why we cry. It hurts.

And amputation is a good analogy. Because unlike a bullet wound, when the amputation heals, the arm is still gone. So the hurt of grief is different from the hurt of other wounds. There is the pain of the severing, and then the relentless pain of the gone-ness. The countless might-have-beens. Those too hurt. Each new remembered one is a new blow on the tender place where the arm was. So grieving is like and unlike other pain.

There is a paradox in the way God is honored through hope-filled grief. One might think that the only way he could be honored would be to cry less or get over the ache more quickly. That might show that your confidence is in the good that God is and the good that he does. Yes. It might. And some people are wired emotionally to experience God that way. I would not join those who say, “O they are just in denial.”

But there is another way God is honored in our grieving. When we taste the loss so deeply because we loved so deeply and treasured God’s gift — and God in his gift — so passionately that the loss cuts the deeper and the longer, and yet in and through the depths and the lengths of sorrow we never let go of God, and feel him never letting go of us — in that longer sorrow he is also greatly honored, because the length of it reveals the magnitude of our sense of loss for which we do not forsake God. At every moment of the lengthening grief, we turn to him not away from him. And therefore the length of it is a way of showing him to be ever-present, enduringly sufficient.

So trust him deeply and let your heart be your guide whether you honor him one way or the other. Everyone is different. Beware of blaming your husband, or he you, for moving into or out of grief at different paces. It is so personal. And what you may find is that the one who seemed to recover more quickly will weep the more deeply in ten years. You just don’t know now, and it is good not to judge.

May God make your grieving a bittersweet experience of communion with Jesus. Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). So he knows what it is to go with you there.

We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize. He was tested in every way as we are — including loss.

Grace to you and peace.

Affectionately,

Pastor John

On the loss of a child…

I found this to be profoundly moving – by R C Sproul, Jr.

Life is liturgy. Habits are holy, I have noticed already, for the passing of my precious daughter Shannon has left me without my tempo. Because of her frailty four times each day Shannon had to be fed. Four times a day she had to be given her water and her medications. Those times come each day and I not only ache for her absence, but I grow dizzy, not knowing where to turn. Serving her was our rhythm, the ticking of our grandfather clock.

While all liturgies are holy, some are more holy than others. While all move us, only one takes us to our end, our destination. When we come to the Lord’s Table we are not merely stopping to remember and contemplate the suffering of Jesus for us. We are not just looking backward, but we are moving forward. We come to taste eternity, for at the table we draw near to Him; we feast with Him. It is not just a miracle in our midst, but puts us together right in the midst of The Miracle, God in the Flesh.

My Shannon, though her faith was obvious to all who knew her, was never able to verbally profess that faith. Because she could not speak she could not speak of her love and need for Jesus. Because she could not profess her faith she was not allowed to eat the bread and drink the wine. Though our Lord is delighted to work through means, to draw uncommonly near through common bread and common wine, He is not so constrained. He did not look to Shannon from a distance, and wish there was something He could do. He is mighty to overcome.

Which is why I added to The liturgy my Liturgy. Whenever and wherever we celebrated the Table of our Lord I kept Shannon close to me. Though she could not take the bread of life, I spoke to her the words of life. I would every time whisper two precious truths into her ear, “Shannon, Jesus is here sweetheart. And Jesus loves you.”

Four days ago as I write Shannon walked through the vale, and through the veil. Yesterday we laid her body to rest. Today, however, we will meet again. Today the Holy Spirit will lift me and my children up into the heavenly places, to the true and eternal Mount Zion, to the souls of just men, and moms and little girls made perfect. Today the church militant and the church triumphant will be one, and will feast together. Today He will draw us to Himself, and we will be one.

Today, for the first time, I will hear Shannon’s voice. At that table, at that feast, in the midst of that liturgy. I, profoundly disabled though I am, will be there. Jesus will feed me. And Shannon will whisper in my ear, “Jesus is here Daddy, and Jesus loves you.” Because He does. World without end. Amen.

Dealing with Grief

Justin Taylor writes:

I once asked Matt Chandler about the unhelpful things people said to him in his fight against cancer. He refused to give examples but explained, “I think people can get a little weirded out by pain, suffering, and death. They don’t know what to do so they end up saying things that are hurtful to people who have experienced loss.”

For those of us self-aware of the propensity for foot-in-mouth disease, we sometimes choose simply to ignore those who are hurting so that we don’t make things worse.

Jill Sullivan, who lost a 16-year-old daughter to a highly aggressive form of brain cancer, explains why it can be so hard to return to church after the death of a loved one. She writes:

Our churches are full of people who are hurting, many of whom have lost children or other loved ones. For me personally, returning to church was one of the most difficult things to do after my loss, and I’ve talked to many other bereaved parents who have expressed the same thing.

She offers some reasons why this might be the case:

•Families tend to sit together at church, and when your family is missing someone, their absence is particularly acute in the pew. Looking around and seeing other intact families worshiping beside you can also be very painful.
•The songs we sing in church can bring up very strong emotions. Songs about heaven can conjure up an almost unbearable longing in our hearts, and songs of praise can be difficult to sing when your heart is broken.
•There is an unspoken expectation at church that everyone is filled with the “joy of the Lord.” You know what I mean . . . we put on our best clothes and our Sunday School smiles and give the appearance that all is right in our world. A grieving parent may simply not have the emotional stamina to play that role.

She then asks, “So how do we as the body of Christ reach out to bereaved parents and give comfort without adding to their pain?”

Here are her suggestions for both those who are grieved and for those who can comfort:

•Be patient with them. Grief is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s important to respect the fact that people need time to heal. The grieving parent may not be ready to resume regular church activities right away, whether that’s teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, working in the nursery, or greeting at the door.
•Grief comes in waves. Don’t assume that a person is “over it” if you see them smiling or laughing, and don’t assume that a person is “not doing well” if you see them grieving outwardly.
•They may not be interested in small talk. Someone who has lost a child is grappling with deep spiritual issues and may not be interested in shallow conversation. Listen to them if they want to talk, and don’t feel that you need to answer all their questions. Remember how well it went over once Job’s friends started talking!
•Grieving people are vulnerable and often hyper-sensitive, and they may have been hurt by things that well-meaning people have said to them. Some of those things might include:
“I know what you’re going through. My grandmother died last year.”
Something along the lines of “God always picks His best flowers first” or “God must have needed another angel in heaven.”
“She’s in a better place.” (There’s nothing really wrong with that because it’s true…it’s just that the grieving person really wants their loved one here with them!)
“It’s a good thing you have another child.”
•They also may have been hurt by those who have intentionally avoided them or who have said nothing to them at all. So what should we say to a grieving mom or dad?
“I love you, and I’m praying for you.”

She writes, “That’s it? Could it be that simple? Yes, it really is. This statement, maybe accompanied by a warm hug, is all that’s needed to assure a bereaved parent of your care and concern.”

You can read her whole post here.

For those who are grieving, this workshop from Nancy Guthrie (at the TGC Women’s Conference) may prove instructive and edifying.

Jesus wept!

Far too often, we as Christians are influenced by the culture around us and not by the word of God. It is exactly this tendency that is in view when Romans 12:2 exhorts us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”

Do grown men cry? Should they?

Well there was only one perfect expression of manhood who walked this planet. It was not John Wayne, Tom Cruise or some other Hollywood superstar. The most perfect man was Jesus Christ, fully man as well as fully God.

“Jesus wept” (John 11:35) is the shortest verse in the entire Bible – short on words but long in what it reveals. It is all the more remarkable because Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from death. Why cry when within minutes, grief would be banished and He would get glory from such an outstanding miracle? Yet such was His love, such was His compassion both for Lazarus himself and for his family’s grief, that Jesus wept real sincere tears. There was nothing fake about them.

Acts 8:2 tells us that when Stephen was martyred the Church made “loud lamentation” over him. They were not scolded by God for their tears and told to be more spiritual or to act more “grown up”. The Scripture’s complete silence of scorn and ridicule for the Church’s tears speaks volumes to us.

Even when Jesus knew deliverance was right around the corner and was just about to bring it, He cried… He wept. The fact that you cry does not mean you do not trust God or His promises. It means you are truly human and you feel real pain. God has designed our tears to be release valves for the strain, stress and pain we all feel in this world. Your tears are precious to God. So much so, that He even makes the promise to you that He will one day wipe all tears from your eyes. Continue reading