Our Sunday school is growing, and I am enjoying our study of the Apostles’ Creed. In fact, we have had much good discussion and will continue studying the first tenet—I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth—next week. Join us, if you are able, at 10 a.m., for coffee, a bit of fellowship, and great study and discussion. Is your faith important to you? Then come and learn about the foundations of the Christian church with us.
A few weeks ago, someone asked me, “Why does God let young people die? Is there a reason for God’s choices?” I have to admit that I had no answer except to say that only God knows our days and our seasons and only God knows the reason. This afternoon, while contemplating this article, I received word that a friend had perished in a serious car accident. The question resurfaced once again: “Why?”
It is hard to deal with the death of a loved one. And it is hard for me because I don’t have all the answers. I want to fix things, to make people feel better, to explain things. However, although I am “God’s representative,” I usually can’t explain God’s plans or choices, especially when they don’t seem to make sense.
In times of loss we all want to be of help, and we often say things like, “She’s better off now,” or “At least he isn’t suffering.” While these statements may be true, and they might help a little, they are just bandages for the deep, gaping wound the family is experiencing. So what do we do? How do we help?
I have found that talking about the deceased—in a good way, mind you—is an excellent way to help the grieving. Telling stories, remembering kind words or funny deeds or special things he or she had done, these can help salve the wound. Another way to help in times of loss is often just your presence: a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, an arm around someone who is feeling lost. When words cannot help, your presence may.
The Bible gives us an example of such grief. In fact, the shortest verse in the Bible tells us that “Jesus wept” at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Jesus identified with Mary and Martha in the loss of their brother, and He wept, as well, at the loss of his good friend. Was Jesus’ loss any less because He was able to raise Lazarus from the dead? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe some of Jesus’ grief was because he had not been there to prevent the tragedy in the first place. In any case, we know from Jesus’ example that weeping is a part of grief, an important part.
And yet we still ask the questions and wonder what God is thinking. If God is sovereign, and God is, why does God allow these things to happen? And so we pray, and we cry, and we wonder.
Many years ago now, there was a devout man, active in his church and devoted to the. He was successful but had recently experienced real estate losses in the 1871 Chicago fire and, previous to that, the loss of his only son. Wanting his family to get some rest, he booked passage for his wife and four daughters to Europe, planning to follow them after completing urgent business. Unfortunately, on December 22, their ship was struck by another and sank quickly. When the survivors reached land, his wife sent a message: “Saved alone.”
Horatio Spafford, a Presbyterian lawyer and friend to evangelist Dwight Moody, immediately departed on a ship for Europe to be with his wife. The captain showed him the spot where he believed the ship went down, and Spafford penned the words, “It is well; the will of God be done.” These words later became part of the beloved hymn, It Is Well with My Soul.” Having lost all five of his children and most of his wealth, he still had the faith to say, “It is well.”
No doubt Spafford had questions. No doubt he experienced anger and frustration, even toward God. And yet, the depth of his faith speaks even today through the words: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” Though reeling from grief, he turned to the one thing that could carry him through, the knowledge that God would be with him whatever came his way.
Spafford looked to the cross, to the sacrifice of Christ as the buoy to hold him up in his grief. “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control: that Christ has regarded my helpless estate and has shed his own blood for my soul.” Although he didn’t understand God’s plan or God’s reasons, he did recognize that there was a plan, and he once again placed himself in the mighty, strong hands of his Savior.
There are several stages in the grieving process—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—and it is important that we never push a person past where they are able to function in that process. If you are grieving today, or helping someone who is, let me offer this word. Even when you don’t understand why, pray. Even when you don’t think you can go on, pray. Even if you are mad at God for the events you are grieving over, pray. You see, God is there even when we are struggling, even when we are doubting. God will never leave you or forsake you. Remind yourself of this truth, over and over again, if need be. And you will be able to say, “It is well with my soul.”
Pastor Mary Kay