Friday, August 26, 2011

Purpose, Not Cause

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus confronts the question of why God allows suffering in the world. In that portion of scripture, Jesus and his disciples come across a man who had been blind from birth. At that moment, Jesus’ disciples had the opportunity to ask Jesus the simple question that so many of us have asked God in our grief—why God? Why was this man born blind? Was the man’s blindness caused by the sin of the man’s parents or the man’s own sin? Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus then proceeded to demonstrate His authority over blindness, health, and life itself by immediately healing the man’s blindness. It seems that God purposed the man’s blindness from birth in order to provide Jesus, at that very moment, the opportunity to powerfully demonstrate His healing power.

For parents grieving the death of their children, two significant implications follow from this passage.

Turn to God’s purposes

First, we should look for the purposes that God is accomplishing through the death of our child, and not focus on the causes of his death. Of this passage, John Piper says, “The meaning of Jesus [in this passage] is not obscure. He is saying to the disciples: Turn away from your fixation on causality as the decisive explanation of suffering. And turn away from any surrender to futility, or absurdity, or chaos, or meaninglessness. And turn to the purposes and plans of God. There is no child and no suffering outside God’s purposes.” John Piper, Sermon, May, 2011,

If you have lost a child in death, you can trust that God is not punishing you for some sin in the past or some failure on your part to adequately care for your child. Just as the man born blind was not punished for the sins of his parents, so also your child did not die because of your past. Moreover, there is nothing that you could have done to have prevented your child’s death. The author and sustainer of the entire universe purposed that your child should live only as long as he or she lived, not a moment more, not a moment less. King David wrote, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16.

If we center our grief in the causes of our child’s death, we will be caught in an endless cycle of anger, frustration, and discontentment. In short, we will be living in the past. Instead of focusing on the causes of how our child died, we ought to try to live in the assurance that God is, even through this most difficult time of our life, working “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28. Rather than living in despair, we can live in peace, trusting that God accomplishes all his objectives for our child’s life in a manner that most glorifies Himself. We can live “in the future” in the sense that we will, ultimately, come to realize that all of our sufferings were used by God in a manner far exceeding our grandest expectations.

God’s ultimate aim is to accomplish His glory and our good, not our comfort

Second, this passage shows us that God prioritizes the magnification of His own glory ahead of our life objectives, our life goals, and even our own comfort. Consider the suffering of the blind man as he lived in blindness in first-century Palestine. He did not benefit from those modern conveniences available to blind men & women. In addition to these daily physical difficulties that must have accompanied his blindness, the man suffered from the social stigma that accompanied blindness in that culture. From his birth, the man was an outcast. He was forced to endure the scorn and ridicule of those who believed that his blindness was a result of sin.

Some argue that God could not possibly desire for us to experience such significant suffering as the death of a child. The implicit assumption with this argument is that God sees the universe exactly as we do. In other words, under this misguided notion, our perception of the greatest “good” that could come from a particular situation is also God’s greatest “good.” As noted by Randy Alcorn in “If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering,” a child often fails to see the good that is accomplished when parents discipline their child. From the child’s standpoint, the parent does not seem to be working for his or her greatest good. Just as children do not have the long-term perspective necessary to see the greater good that can be accomplished through discipline, so also we usually lack God’s perspective when it comes to understanding the purposes behind our own suffering.

Particularly in an age of human history where we make much of “human rights,” it seems that the worst thing God could do is take away our “rights” to a safe, comfortable life. But nowhere does the Bible apologize for the suffering that followers of Christ may experience during their earthly lifetimes. Jesus’ encounter with this first-century Palestinian blind man in John 9 underscores the fact that God not only allows suffering, but uses these sufferings. There, God purposed this man’s blindness, and all that it entailed, in order to give Jesus this opportunity, at this brief moment in history, to demonstrate His glory.

In addition to providing occasion for God to demonstrate his glory, the man’s blindness was also for the blind man’s own ultimate good. In exchange for the safe, comfortable life to which we think we are entitled, God calls us to a life greater than what we can fathom. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:9, “…no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” It is not unreasonable to think that, even after his subsequent meetings with the Jewish religious leaders, the blind man described in John chapter 9 became a devoted follower of Christ. I’m guessing that if you could speak with this Christ-follower right now, he would tell you that he is glad that he was born blind. His blindness turned out to be for his good, because it occasioned him to meet and be healed by Jesus and, most likely and importantly, become a devoted follower of Jesus.

If you are suffering through the death of a child, isn’t it possible that, just as God used the blind man’s infirmity to glorify himself, God will also work through your weakness to glorify himself? Isn’t it also possible that, as of this moment, we cannot grasp everything that has occurred and will occur by reason of your child’s death, and that God will use your child’s death to accomplish many and varied good things, whether in your life or the lives of others?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Baby Three


We are very excited and very thankful to announce that the Lord has blessed us again with another little boy. At 1:05 yesterday afternoon, we received Brendan James Wessman into the world. Both Brendan and mom are doing very well. Brendan weighs 8 pounds, 9 ounces, and is 20 ½ inches long.

While the jury is still out, early indications are that he looks more like his oldest brother, Micah, then his other brother, Owen. While a bit uncertain at first, Owen seems to be taking to his new little brother quite well. (See attached picture). We are certain that Micah is rejoicing with us now, in heaven, over the birth of his second little brother.

In the past two years since Micah’s death, the New Testament book of James has been a source of tremendous encouragement to us in our grief. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” We worship a loving and sovereign God who is accomplishing all that He intends through us and our children. Today, we rejoice in the good gift given to us in the little life of Brendan James.

Thanks for your friendship, prayers and support. We look forward to introducing Brendan to you personally.

Cory, on behalf of Heather, Owen & Brendan.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Yearning to See Micah

Over the past few weeks, Heather and I have tried to put into words our emotions as we’ve passed the two-year anniversary of Micah’s death. Heather has repeatedly shared with me that she can’t seem to find the right words to describe her emotions. Certainly we “miss” Micah. But the gray heaviness in heart that is felt in grief is more than just “missing” our son.

We most often use the term “miss” in normal, even mundane, life circumstances. We tell others that we “missed” a sale at the store or “missed” the end to a great sports game or we “missed” a friend while away on a trip. To “miss” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “to notice the absence or loss of” or “to regret the absence or loss of.” The word seems to connote pain in separation without, necessarily, the suggestion that the person exhibiting the feeling has any hope of any future reunion with the object of their affection.

While Heather and I are agreed that there doesn’t seem to be a word in the English language close enough to our emotion, I have settled, at least for now, on saying that I yearn for Micah’s presence. “Yearning,” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a deep longing, especially when accompanied by tenderness or sadness.” Yearning suggests an intense desire for the object of affection. With yearning, one would not have the desire if one did not at least hold out hope that one’s yearning will eventually be satisfied.

In Philippians 1:8, Paul tells the church at Philippi that he “yearns for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” According to a blog written by John Kitchen, the original Greek word translated as “yearn” in this passage is a compound word. According to Kitchen, “…the root describes desire, anxiety, a wish for or to strive after something. The prefix intensifies the meaning so that the resulting word describes a deep, earnest affection for or longing after someone.” Just as Paul yearned to see his flock in Philippi, we yearn to see our oldest son Micah again.

I think the temptation for some parents who are in our position would be to take any means necessary to avoid the pain of “missing” your child. That is, to focus our energies solely on our other children or other sources of distraction in order to minimize the pain of “missing” their child. If life were lived outside the control of a sovereign and loving God who controls and directs everything in our lives, then the logical course of action would be to physically bury your dead child and then, for the rest of your earthly existence, take whatever means necessary to mentally bury the memory of your child as well. The pain of “missing” your child would be so great that the best course of action would be to bury all of our memories in a black blanket of repression, and to pretend, against all reason, that one’s now-deceased child never existed. One would need to reject, as a mistake, any fleeting thoughts of the child.

But rather than repress the memory of Micah, we daily keep our memory of Micah alive not only because we treasure the time we had together on earth, but also because we know we will see him again. In thinking about how to properly honor Micah on his “home-going day,” a counselor encouraged us to do those things as a family that we would be doing now if Micah were still with us. Rather than seeking comfort “outside” of our grief, I appreciated how our counselor encouraged us to enter “inside” the grief. Christians can enter into grief boldly and fully, knowing that despite the pain associated with the present separation from our loved ones, we can look forward to how life’s story will end. The pain of “missing” our son is great, but the yearning for him seems to grow deeper every day.

Appropriately, the Greek word used in Philippians 1:8 is also used by Paul in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians. There, Paul is referring to the believer’s hope in Heaven. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).

Like Paul, we are yearning for heaven, where we will be clothed with our heavenly bodies and where we will see our son again. As Christians, we don’t just live in the present, living our lives in ways to repress painful memories of the past. We can honestly enter into the painful grief of remembering the past because we know what is to come in our future.