This last week, in a span of two days I had two different families that I know, lose loved ones, in rather tragic and painful ways. One was a young couple, expecting their first child any day, and then were presented with the news that their little one had died. The other was a mother of four precious girls and wife to a strong and noble man, who passed away after a long and grueling battle with cancer. Needless to say, my heart has been heavy for these friends and these families.
Words of comfort feel so feeble, and there is a sense that, though you feel badly for them, you aren’t feeling the grief half so keenly as you ought. I remember on my wedding day wishing that I could somehow feel the joy of that day ten-thousand times deeper, the same with this; I wish I could feel the grief more profoundly, and somehow help carry the burden of it all.
As I’ve sought for comfort in this situation, it struck me that many of our modern day preachers oftentimes reduce Christianity down to a set of 10 steps to a happy, healthy life. We have financial gurus that have unlocked secret Bible codes that lead to success and wealth. We have Christian fitness programs to get us into shape. We have bought the lie that if we are financially stable, and physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy, then we will be impressive to this world. But what makes a lost world wonder is not when we tell them that they should ask Jesus in their heart, because God has a wonderful plan for their life. I mean, why wouldn’t you too want to live the posh life like me?! However, the world wonders when, in the midst of the valley of death’s darkest shadow, the saint lifts up a cry of love, affection and praise unto God; it is when that which is most precious is stripped away from the believer that their faith proves to be well-placed.
The men of this world stake their whole life’s security in stocks, bonds, and investments. They pride themselves in health club memberships, fancy cars, stylish clothes; but in the end, they will have nothing to show for it. However, the saint of God recognizes that, yes, God gives, and more abundantly and graciously than we ever deserve; and often, He will take away, all to use our life as a testimony that the truest treasure isn’t a newborn child, or a beloved mother and wife. Our treasure is Christ alone. Thus, the saint has a song to sing, even in the midst of the dark of midnight’s sorrows. The suffering saint doesn’t merely sing songs about the faithfulness, gentleness, goodness, lovingkindness, and tender mercies of God. Rather, they actually taste the sweetness of Christ’s love. This is what an apostate world must see once more in Christianity: not that we rejoice in the temporal things that they rejoice in (i.e. stuff, things, relationships), but rather in the eternal glories and riches of Christ.
My words, in these situations, must be few. For, I have not tasted a bitter cup like my friends have been drinking. But one thing I’ve learned even with the small draught of suffering and grief that I have felt for them is this, Christ has a glorious and beautiful purpose even in the midst of tremendous earthly suffering. Thus, I’ll leave off with a few precious words from Spurgeon. These are written to young men in the ministry, but it is applicable for all believers:
If it be inquired why the Valley of the Shadow of Death must so often be traversed by the servants of King Jesus, the answer is not far to find. [. . .] By all the castings down of his servants God is glorified, for they are led to magnify him when again he sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields him praise. They speak all the more sweetly of his faithfulness, and are the more firmly established in his love. Such mature men as some elderly preachers are, could scarcely have been produced if they had not been emptied from vessel to vessel, and made to see their own emptiness and the vanity of all things round about them. Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below.
Thus, believer, though the world trembles before that five letter word, death, the Christian cries aloud, even as their heart is breaking from grief:
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal;
Christ has burst the gates of hell;
Death in vain forbids his rise;
Christ has opened paradise.
Lives again our glorious King;
Where, O Death, is now thy sting?
Once he died our souls to save;
Where’s thy victory, boasting Grave?