It was our first anniversary. It was not what either of us had thought it
would be. It was not pleasant. It was overshadowed by something else. I
preached my first funeral that day. The seventeen year old son of members in
the local church where I was preaching had developed a very sudden illness,
a very rare and aggressive form of Leukemia. The first symptoms had appeared
only a week before while he was at work. Within a week he had died and the
family was devastated. I was an inexperienced young preacher in the hospital
room when the young man died. In fact, at the time, he was about six years
younger than I was. I would have liked to have been able to do more, but
there was not much to do but to cry and express sorrow and embrace. Today, I
can do a little better on such occasions, but not much. I still could not
say, “I know how you feel.” because I have not experienced that particular
tragedy. Others can. There are many losses suffered that I cannot say, “I
know how you feel” but some I can. If I had known then what I know now, I
could have said more that would have been helpful in the days that followed,
but there are some things I still could not do. But I know this; the parents
were facing Satan that day. He wanted them to curse God. They didn't. Satan
I still cannot make the hurt go away. I am not sure how I would cope, so it
is difficult for me to say, “This is what I'd do.” Think: what thing is it
that you fear most? I have my fears. Unspeakable losses that I dare not even
mention… “Lord, let anything but THAT happen… just not THAT.” But if it did
happen, would I make it through with my faith intact?
Job said, "For what I fear comes upon me, And what I dread befalls me.” (Job
3:25). Job was quite willing to leave this world. He would welcome death
(3:20-22). What losses had this man suffered! He lost his home, his health
and his family and everything else except for his life. He was not perfect,
but he clang to his faith, never knowing the purposes or reasons or causes
of his sorrow.
Two Sides of a Coin (James 1:2-8)
The first order of business as we face tragedy is learning to deal with it.
The “wisdom” being discussed in James chapter one has to do with handling
trials and understanding something of their source and nature. Godly wisdom
maintains its course in good times and bad (James 3:13; 17-18).
Job is one positive example James uses (James 5:10,11). The Scriptures say,
“Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse
God and die!" (Job 2:9).
Two Opposing Purposes - Same Trial
There was something Job did not know - Satan had accused him of being
faithful to God only because God had blessed him (Job 1:7-12 1 Peter
5:8-10). The same sorrows by which Satan sought to destroy Job God used to
perfect and prove him.
The apostle Paul was given great blessings, which could have gone to his
head (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Satan's purpose in sending the thorn (“a
messenger of Satan”) was to deter him. God's purpose for allowing it was
that it kept Paul from becoming prideful. The outcome: Paul was perfected…
God's grace is sufficient.
A Point Worth Remembering
What would I tell the grieving parents today? I would still tell them I
don't understand how they can possibly bear their loss. I would still
shudder even to think of facing a similar experience myself. But I would
also tell them that God must think a lot of their faith and character. He
knows they can bear it. If not, then they would never have been called upon
to do so (1 Corinthians 10:12,13).
There are two sides of the coin… Satan's side is evil and destruction, God's
side is strengthening and perfecting, and we get to decide which side the
coin will land on. Faith and wisdom will cause the coin to land on God's
side every time! God's grace is sufficient to reach glory for those who walk
The Ultimate Purpose
It is because of the nature of sin and the righteousness and justness of God
that we are in need of such discipline. We must undergo a training and
proving process in our journey toward spiritual maturity. This is because
all have sinned. Not all have committed the same sins; some appear to be
more grievous than others, but no sin is righteous. Jesus forgives us of our
sins and removes them when we obey the gospel (Acts 22:16).
But our habitual practices make us sinners by nature (not the way we are
born, but the way we have walked (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:23; 10-18).
Mankind without God is a pathetic, hideous ugly mess. Have you been
listening to the news? Read the headlines? There are many wild and dangerous
animals of the two-legged variety walking the earth today (2 Peter 2:12-19)!
Consider this illustration: There are some wild dogs running in a pack. You
want one as a pet to share your fireplace with you in the winter. Do you go
out and catch one and bring him right into your house in his wild state? No.
He gets penned outside. He is fed. He is taught to trust you. He is calmed.
It takes much patience at first when he growls and snaps. He wants out of
there! He hates the leash, the commands and the restrictions. Lots of work.
Two years later… midwinter…blizzard and cold.. his former pack is somewhere
out in the freezing temperatures struggling with the winter while you are in
your rocking chair in front of a warm fire, and the dog is now curled up in
front of the fireplace at the foot of the chair, perfectly at peace. If he
had only known what was at the end of the training process! But it had been
beyond his comprehension.
I know it is hard to think along these lines when tragedy and sorrow strike,
but the more spiritually mature and full of faith we are, the easier it will
be. It will not remove the sorrow, but it will give us strength to endure
and even to prosper.
This is What To Do (James 1:2-4)
We will “consider it all joy” when we encounter trials. Not that the trial
itself is joyful, but the perfecting taking place leading to victory. We
look ahead to the fireplace (2 Corinthians 4:12-18). We cannot see it now,
and perhaps only barely begin to comprehend it, but we know it is there
waiting for us (2 Corinthians 5:6-9).
We know that testing produces endurance which makes us stronger. Paul said,
“When I am weak, then I am strong.” He did not like the thorn, but he liked
where the thorn would lead.
- It is difficult for me to know what to
say to people enduring pain, sorrow and loss. It still is. I would much
rather “rejoice with them that rejoice” than to “weep with them that weep”
but I am told to do both as a brother in Christ. Remember, Satan wants you
to fail, God wants you to succeed, and He says you are able to bear it.
From The Bradley Banner 2/17/2006
Published by the Bradley Church of Christ
1505 E. Broadway
Bradley, IL 60915