Do you suffer? Are you weary? Do you long for something more? The hope of the Christian is real.
It started with a text from a friend telling me that his mother was dying of leukemia. She was elderly and knew the Lord, but it was nonetheless awful:
“She’s bedbound as her toes, feet, and lower legs die and dry gangrene sets in…. They are literally rotting despite cleaning …”
For weeks, my friend had been at her bedside taking care of her every need waiting for the inevitable. As I write, she lingers, and we pray for the Lord to take her.
“I remind myself each day that God is sovereign, and He has a purpose,” my friend wrote. “But it is still so sad.”
* * *
A day later, I received another text as the wheels of my 737 touched down at my next engagement.
“My son passed away yesterday,” it read. “He is with Jesus. Just wanted you to know, brother.”
I gasped. This news simply took my breath away. Just days before, this father was planning to come to our Christmas celebration. He had to cancel because he said his son wasn’t feeling well. It didn’t sound serious. Now his son is dead. This bright young man of twenty was a shining light of promise.
* * *
Then I got a third text. It came from a friend who is very much in the public eye. Her husband had died suddenly, and the media was relishing it. A prominent Christian was dead! Oh, how they loved it. She was hoping I might have some advice, something to sustain her, since I have been likewise smeared by BBC, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Independent, and, well, a few people I foolishly mistook for friends. I replied:
I have been trashed by the media many times. I’ve also been attacked by people who rode in my wake, ate my food, slept under my roof, and accepted my kindnesses when they were down. When I was down? They were not to be found. It stung. I fought back. Then it occurred to me that most of them knew they were repeating a lie. Truth was made slave to their personal agendas or ideologies.
Take comfort in this: they are not your judge. They are not your [late] husband’s judge. You have passed from judgment unto Life. One day the Lord will step into this reality and judge, separating sheep from goats. Pray for these enemies. It does two things: one for you, one for them. First, it’s a guard against hate creeping into your heart; second, it might lead to their salvation. God knows your heart. He knows their hearts. Store up treasures in heaven as you have always done. I pray the Lord give you grace to endure these hard times. Try to ignore your attackers. Your real friends will. And CNN is so predictable, isn’t it?
This was the extent of my wisdom. I knew she was hurting. Grace. God, please give grace.
* * *
Shortly thereafter, Lauri informed me that a mutual friend had lost her father and her job. The first was not wholly unexpected but the latter was a shock. Irrational COVID lockdowns had caused financial convulsions within her company forcing layoffs. She had been recently promoted. Now the woman who had vacated the position for a promotion of her own was booted back down the ladder and our friend was unemployed. And when is the loss of a parent not a cause of emotional distress?
* * *
But the suffering didn’t end there. Entering the lobby of a hotel a young woman, recognizing me, hurried to my side and gave me a hug. Tearfully, she told me that she had been suffering from depression.
“I had a miscarriage, and the same day I miscarried I discovered that my ex-husband’s girlfriend is pregnant.”
Heavens. Talk about adding insult to injury. The poor girl was understandably distraught.
* * *
This avalanche of tragedy all occurred in the same week. This week. Amidst what seems to me an unusually quiet buildup to Christmas, I find myself thinking about Our Lord’s birth and what it meant for mankind. In the words of the great Christmas carol:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
When those you love are suffering, you suffer. You want to help them, to bear their burden. But there is some suffering into which you cannot enter. It must be borne alone. So, we pray. We encourage. We listen. We offer kindnesses. And we remind them even as we remind ourselves where our ultimate hope lies: the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And in his name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy
In grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise his holy name!
This world and everything in it is broken. But one day, as Revelation 21:4 promises:
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Put your hope there and you will not be disappointed. For it is the only certain hope in an unstable world.
A POSTSCRIPT ON GRIEF & HOPE
When I first published this article on grief and hope a week ago, I could not have anticipated what would happen next. Within the last hour I received this devastating news:
“Mr. Taunton, Chris [Davis] died earlier today from his glioblastoma [i.e., an aggressive form of brain cancer]. I got to be with him a couple of times and we reminisced about a lot of things, including high school and the Bible study….”
As I write, I am filled with grief. Chris Davis was a former student of mine and one of the charter members of the Fixed Point Foundation student Bible study that continues all these years later. More than that, he was a loving husband, father, psychiatrist, and man of faith. When I think of Chris, I smile. He was a truly sweet, intelligent, and often funny human being who loved the Lord, his family, and the people to whom he was called to minister.
My last meaningful interaction with Chris was the night before he had brain surgery. Due to my own trauma, I am often awake well into the wee hours of the night reading, writing, or watching an old movie. Chris knew that, and he texted me around 2 a.m. seeking comfort in his pain and anxiety. He was understandably anxious for his wife and children. I reminded him of all the things he knew. Things it had been my great privilege to teach him, but that we need to hear from time to time to reassure us as we journey through our Valleys of the Shadow of Death as Chris surely was. I could feel him strengthening as I spoke of Jesus’ love, sovereignty, and eternal salvation, and as I spoke of God’s faithfulness to me in my own suffering.
Dear Christian, I have said in this article that the Christian’s hope is real. Let me drive that point home. With this news of my young friend’s death, I find myself pondering Jesus’ words in John 11. There we find a story that appears in no other Gospel: the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus arrives in Bethany where Lazarus has been entombed for four days. Martha and Mary, Lazarus’s sisters, both say to Jesus these somewhat accusing words: “if you had been here…” We are then told that when Jesus saw their grief he wept.
In any retelling of this passage that I have ever heard, Jesus is said to have wept because he loved Lazarus. While it is true that he did, I don’t think the passage supports that interpretation. That was the conjecture of the crowd, but Jesus himself never says so. The text offers insight into his true feelings:
“… he was deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled.”
The Greek here means “a snort of derision.” It implies a deep, sorrowful frustration.
Why was Jesus frustrated?
Because Lazarus had died? No. The passage tells us Jesus deliberately delayed his coming until Lazarus was dead. In verse 15 he says, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there…” Besides, he knew what they did not know: he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He wasn’t mourning Lazarus’s death.
Jesus’ frustration is found in the fact that he had taught these people for three years about the hope of eternal life, they had seen him make the lame walk and the blind see, and yet they still mourned like a bunch of pagans who are without hope! All they could say was “if you had been here,” implying that Lazarus was now beyond Jesus’ reach. To which Jesus replied:
“I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. Do you believe this?”
Martha said that she did, but neither she nor anyone else understood the full weight of the Lord’s meaning. So, Jesus reached into eternity, grabbed Lazarus by the shirt collar, and yanked him back into this reality, thus demonstrating as clearly as anything could that his power extended to dominion over death itself!
The practical application is this:
Do you, dear Christian, believe this: “I am the Resurrection and the Life”? Or do you mourn like one who is without hope? Our grief in loss and suffering is real, but it shouldn’t be characterized by the soul crushing grief of hopelessness. I mourn the loss of my young friend. I grieve for his parents. I grieve for his wife and children. But because Jesus is The Resurrection and The Life, we have a great hope! We shall meet again! Our Lord has prepared a home, an eternal Sabbath, for those whom he loves! Rejoice!
Let us cling to that hope. May our tears be tempered by it. And let us thank God for it. For without it, all is vanity.
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