I gazed at the old photo of my grandfather Jones (below), whom I never met in person. He had to watch as three of his daughters slowly succumbed to TB when they were barely teenagers . . . and this his wife. I think how lucky that while I've lost my father, there have been no other close losses of this magnitude.
I think why this topic is most acute this morning is that I spent last night in the ER with my 19 year old son, Ramsey. He was having a heart problem. I won't go into that here, but there was a moment when the ER physician (who, btw, never made eye contact with me) indicated that, his first impression was that the condition was grim. I had to sit and wait for about 45 minutes before the news seemed to improve and the physician changed his mind. We still don't know what the problem is until a cardiac workup is compete but I'm living in the hope, and odds, that it will be benign.
But the major reason this topic has been on my mind of late is that a neighbor of mine was not so lucky two weeks ago. It was a father's worst (and I'm being factual here when I say "worst") nightmare. He was directly responsible in his six year old son's tragic death. A misjudgment then an accident and his precious little boy's life was snuffed out. I didn't know this man, but knew of him as friends of mine are their friends. Each morning as I drive by their new house, my heart breaks. In his son's window was this, largest stuffed lion I had ever seen. It is still there.
A good paster friend of mine, Rusty, was asked to preach at the funeral. I talked to Rusty about the experience, feeling drawn to the father whose loss was immeasurable. Rusty said that he had never met the family before but was asked to preach because they had visited his church once and that was their greatest religious affiliation anywhere . . . one visit a long time ago.
It really doesn't matter if you are a Christian or not, the grief in this situation is beyond containment by happy words or thoughts and certainly not by answers.
I know that there are pastors (and I hope that Rusty is such a pastor) and other Christians who are wonderful in this situation. Even my old pastor, the one who came into my house and yelled at me, is known for being good in family tragedies. However, I know as a whole, Evangelicalism tends to fail those in pain. You see, the greatest narrative within Evangelicalism is the idea that we have the answers the world is looking for. The bumper sticker slogan, "Jesus is the Answer," use to be the most popular one . . . at least in the Bible belt. I can remember a few of the minority atheists had the bumper sticker (in response) "What was the question?"
The problems is, there are two kinds of questions. One comes from the intellect or mind. Those questions deserve real, honest answers and certainly not cliches. But the other species of question pours out of the furnace of pain. It is rotten stuff that over-flows the brim and pours down the side of the cup like battery acid. Christians often make the mistake of trying to answer those questions. "God did this for a reason." "Your job now is to trust God." You know how it goes.
But the real discerning listener sits, sincerely listens and cries. That's all. I really wish I could go down to this stranger-neighbor's house, knock on his door and when he answers, give him a deep embrace and cry my eyes out with him. I may try to do this.
I did try this, about two weeks ago, with a different friend. He is a retired Marine. I just found out his wife died at Christmas. I saw him here at Starbucks. I approached him and told him how very sorry I was. Then I gave him a big hug. He did not reciprocate but stood awkwardly until I let go. The father of the little boy may do the same. But that's what I offer. Not a word of advice. No directives . . . "You must think this or do that."
But how could a father ever get over this . . . causing the death of your own son? There's no question of the intentions. He was just trying to show his son a wonderful time, but he made a mistake and his son died. Does the human heart have the capacity for such grief? I'm not so sure.
One chiche states that God would never give us more trials than the grace He gives to handle it. But, in my opinion, the Fall of mankind is real. The pain is real and has real consequences here on this earth.
I dated a girl in high school whose little brother accidentally drown and it would be easy to have blamed her mother. And her father did. And her mother did. In the end, her mother went insane (psychotic break) and her father became a life-long drunk. The Fall has real consequences and the resolution of that pain may not be realized on this earth.
This is not to say, that we can't go on. My grandfather went on. My father and his sister went on and had productive lives with no outward scars of pain. But my mother did find my stoic dad curled up in a ball sobbing once. It embarrassed her.
So what's my point? Maybe there is none. But maybe what I'm trying to say is that the pain of loss here on earth is too great to dismiss under a narrative of all things work for the best. That verse is taken out of context. We should not make attempts to explain pain because to do such, is to diminish it. There's not enough chiches in the world to bury pain where the sting is gone forever.
But we don't despair. It is really the hero who, doesn't make sense out of things and go on like nothing has happened. The hero is the one, who after such a great loss, can get up in the morning. Maybe that's all that's required of him or her. Okay, that they can eat once again, and if they are lucky, they can maintain a shell of a happy life. But the hope of the true Christian isn't that our pain vanishes here or that we learn to "deal with it," but that we know someday, somewhere, somehow what's wrong will be made right again.