Monday, April 30, 2012

How to Suffer Well

Our dear friend, Jerod Harper, recently experienced a seemingly unbearable tragedy: while at his grandfather's funeral, his mother experienced a brain aneurysm and died instantly.  But Jerod has found his grief to be miraculously bearable, and written below is his description of the Source of his comfort.  Thank you, Jerod, for reminding us that God is "completely sovereign and completely good."  Reading this makes me all the more eager for the Lord to return!

 Theology In a Time of Suffering
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

  Nothing unsettles the human heart like tragedy. It shakes us to the very core of who we are, it will test the foundations that we stand on, and it will push the limits of our understanding. Tragedy is exactly what hit my family a month ago today.
  On the morning of March 24th I received and email from my father that my grandfather had passed away during the night. He was in the latter stages of Alzheimer's and therefore his death did not come as a total surprise. However, anytime you lose a loved one, no matter how prepared, it hurts. As much as this hurt this was only the gray edges of the storm that was about to hit.
  Months before his death my mom and I decided that I would officiate his funeral, so I bought my plane ticket and made my way home that Monday evening. It was late when I arrived at my parents house and my mom was already in bed. My dad and I made a little small talk and then headed off to bed.
  The next morning was much like most mornings at my parents house. We got up, had coffee, talked a little, and then got prepared to head to the funeral home for a lunch and the graveside service. After arriving at the funeral home I made my way to the viewing to see my grandfather one last time. From there I headed to the meal and talked with family members. The room was filled with a mixture of tears and laughter as we all told our favorite ‘grandpa’ stories. Having finished the meal it was time to head to the graveside. I grabbed a bottle of water and then walked with my mom out to the cemetery plot where we found our seats and sat down. My mom looked at me and said that she was struggling and asked me to pray for her. So I hugged her and asked that God would calm her nerves and reassure her of his great love.
  There were only three people who were to speak; my mom, my grandfather's former boss, and then myself. My mom stood to speak and joked that she was a good baptist and therefore she only had four points to what she was going to say. Her last point to speak on was how she had had the opportunity to share the gospel with my grandfather last year and that he had believed and repented.
  As she reached the end of what she had to say she reached for her head and collapsed. People rushed to help her, the ambulance came, we raced her from the first hospital to the second, but to all of the best of medicine at 11:31pm on Tuesday March 27th the doctor pronounced my mom dead. The darkest part of the storm was on us in all of its fury.
  Much of the last month has been a blur. The grief comes in waves crashing one after another with short periods of respite between them. It is in these short periods of rest that I have a chance make sense of all that is happening. Certain things I struggle through and it is those very things that then bring me comfort. There are three doctrines that have brought me the most comforting assurance; God’s sovereignty, sin, and the resurrection.
  Tuesday March 27th did not catch God by surprise. He is completely sovereign, knowing our end before we have beginning. In Psalm 139:16 David states, ‘Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.’ God had numbered the days of my mother’s life. He knew before my mother was even born what would take place that dark day. He is completely sovereign and he is completely good. He who planned to call my mom home that day, which sent my family into such deep grief, is he who planned the means by which we would be comforted. He is the God who embraced us with brothers and sisters in the faith all around the world who have prayed and wept with us. He is the God who gave us the Word that that recounts story after story of him comforting those who mourn, which shows us that he will do the same for us. He is the God who sent his son to become our great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. Was God sovereign the day my mom died? Yes, and praise him that he was, because we would be lost otherwise.
  I must admit it must sound strange that the doctrine of sin would bring comfort in this time, but it is true. My mom’s death was the result of sin. Not any sin in particular which my mom committed, but Adam’s sin. In Genesis 3 Adam sins and all creation is cursed. Because of this women have pain in child bearing, the ground produces thorns and thistles, men work the ground in pain, children get cancer, hurricanes and tornadoes devastate lives, evil governments commit genocide, and beloved moms die of a brain aneurysm at their father’s funeral. The doctrine of sin comforts me because it helps me to understand the ‘why.’ Why did my mom die that day? Sin. This should make me hate sin all the more and love Jesus with greater zeal because he has defeated sin.
  Jesus said to Martha after the death of Lazarus, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’ Paul states in Romans 6:4-5, ‘We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.’ The greatest hurt in losing a loved one is the interruption of the life with them. But because of the resurrection of Christ I will see my mother again. I will talk with her. Lord willing, I will introduce her to my wife and the grandchildren she didn’t have the chance to meet. I will tell her all that we missed together. And she and I will worship the Lord for all his goodness to us in this trial.
  Paul writes to comfort the Thessalonians and he says to them, ‘For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.’ Oh what a day that will be!
  These lessons have come with a heavy price, but the truth of the matter is that some things can only be learned with a bleeding heart. These are just a few of the many things that I am learning. They are good lessons from a good and kind God. I just wish there was another way to learn them.

       I miss you terribly. And though I know I will see you again in the resurrection I sure wish you were here.

     Your Son

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