Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grateful for the Gospel

“Well, you guys just need to do what works for you.” Heather and I heard these words of advice again several times this past week, as we have numerous times over the past year. We have found that this is good advice and right. In many ways, we had to start from scratch to find the right daily routines for us in our grieving. We have had to consider the right “form” of our lives.

In “God’s Grace and Your Sufferings,” David Powlison lists a number of ways in which we could lessen the anxiety surrounding suffering. Among other things, we could take yoga classes, get some “distance from the problem,” or throw ourselves into work. But Powlison says that “none of them gives you high joy in knowing that your entire life is a holy experiment as God’s hands shape you into the image of his Son. None of them changes the way you suffer by embedding it in deeper meaning.” David Powlison, God’s Grace and Your Sufferings, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, Piper & Taylor, eds., p. 165.

While there are benefits to considering how and whether certain routines in life affect grief, none of these decisions will ultimately substitute for the meaning within our lives. The one and only cure for the melancholy from our mourning for Micah is being grateful to God for the gospel. Anything other than God Himself would not be sufficient to persevere over the course of a lifetime.

If we focus on the objective truth of God’s great love for us, demonstrated in Christ, then we will have the power to overcome melancholy. In Colossians, Paul says to the church, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:11-14 (ESV, my emphasis).

There are all sorts of ways that we could try to deal with our grief through forgetting Micah or avoiding his earthly history. We could become alcoholics or workaholics or become addicted to shopping or drugs. We could try to focus on other aspects of our circumstances, such as our second son Owen. It seems to me that, outside of our hope in Christ, the only way to break out of melancholy would be to try various means to either (i) forget my circumstances as they relate to Micah and his history or (ii) convince myself that I don’t (or didn’t) really love Micah all that much or that his death was not that big of a deal. These methods merely avoid the grief in our own minds, and will only work so long as the circumstances are right. These methods of dealing with melancholy are “dark” in the sense that they are not grounded in objective truth.

Paul suggests to the Colossians that the key to endurance in all earthly circumstances is the joy in knowing what Jesus Christ has done for us. Even in light of the reality of our son’s tragic death, we have many reasons to be filled with joy, to be thankful, for what it means to be part of Christ’s Kingdom.

Thankful for Knowing Christ

We are thankful for the actual knowledge of God’s plan for salvation, which is found in His Son, Jesus Christ. In previous ages of human history, only certain elements of God’s plan were made known through the prophets. But now, the mystery hidden for ages and generations has now been revealed to us. To us who have heard of, and trust in, the good news of Jesus Christ, “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of Glory.” Colossians 1:26-27.

We should be thankful for how rich we are merely by reason of the knowledge of this mystery. This "mystery" is that we have been saved by God, through Jesus Christ, for all eternity, not because of anything we have done, but because of God’s grace towards us. Ephesians 2:8. We have been forgiven of all of our imperfections (our sins), have been justified by God and therefore qualify to be members of His Kingdom. We have reason to be thankful because of this inheritance, this gift, of undeserved membership in His Kingdom. Take away all else in our lives, and we still have everything we need in the Kingdom of Christ.

Thankful for Purpose in our Suffering

As difficult as it is to walk through this past year of grief, we are so thankful that God is not wasting our sufferings. We are grateful that God is working through our sufferings to make us more like Jesus. Left on my own, my personal character would likely become worse, not better, following my son’s death. These tragic events have already caused bouts of anger, bitterness and melancholy. Without Christ, these bouts would become entrenched character traits. Indeed, without Christ, I was “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [I] once walked, following the course of this world…carrying out the desires of [my] body and the mind, and [I was] by nature a child of wrath…” Ephesians 2:1-3.

But now, the glory of this “mystery” of the gospel is that Christ now actually lives in us. In living within us, God works in us "to will and to work for his good pleasure" so that we can live a life pleasing to God. Philippians 2:13. Our sinful reactions to emotions arising from temporal circumstances no longer need hold sway. According to Colossians 1, God gives us the power to have patience and endurance to have joy even in the midst of the most difficult temporal circumstances.

And our joy comes from knowing that these difficult temporal circumstances will eventually pass away and we will enjoy God eternally. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.

Thankful for Micah’s Salvation

Next week, we will have endured one year since Micah died and went to be with His Savior. Over this past year, we have been so grateful for the hope that our little son is now in the physical presence of our Lord and Savior.

Samuel Rutherford was a 17th century pastor and theologian who was one of the authors of the Westminster Confession. Amazingly, all of his children from his first marriage and six of his seven children from his second marriage all died before him. To a bereaved mother of a little girl, Samuel Rutherford wrote, “Do you think that she is lost, when she is only sleeping in the bosom of the Almighty? If she were with a dear friend, your concern for her would be small, even though you would never see her again. Oh now, is she not with a dear friend, and gone higher, upon a certain hope that you shall see her again in the resurrection? Your daughter was a part of yourself; and, therefore, being as it were cut in half, you will be grieved. But you have to rejoice; though a part of you is on earth, a great part of you is glorified in heaven.” Samuel Rutherford, Letters of Samuel Rutherford ( Edinburgh : Banner of Trust, repr. 1973).

What ultimately “works” in grief is not just the "forms" of our life, but the meaning, the substance, we attach to our sufferings. Heather and I can be thankful for what Jesus Christ has done for us and for Micah, for what God is currently doing in our lives to make us more like Him, and for what joy awaits us at the resurrection.


  1. I really appreciated the Samuel Rutherford section. I had not read that before. Our sons are not with a dear friend, but with their loving creator and heavenly father. Thanks as always for sharing and for writing so eloquently. We are definitely praying for you all this week.
    Love, Sara (and Bobby)

  2. Weeping again for Heather and you. Praying for you all this week. May God give you grace for the days ahead. Thank you for this hopeful post.

    Neely (and Steve) Tamminga

  3. Praying for both of you, that God would grant grace upon grace to flee to Him, look to Him, cling to Him, and hope in Him, especially in these days ahead. And as you do, praying also that you would know a comfort and help that only our Heavenly Father can perfectly give.

  4. PRAYING!!!!! today! You are in our thoughts!

    ~~~Angie Carey