Is there anything more painful to endure than the death of a child?
Having been orphaned and abandoned as a young boy, I’ve been exposed to my share of sorrow. But, so have you. Nobody on earth can escape the human condition. Troubles roll like the relentless tides of the sea. Or, to quote William Shakespeare, “Troubles come not as single spies—but in battalions!”
If your life is happy and currently free of worry, rejoice—but brace yourself. Change is coming. Conversely, if you’re dragging bottom and weary of the great struggles that have beset you, I urge you, don’t lose heart. “For our light and momentary troubles,” the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
We believe Paul’s inspired words, but in the here and now, we still witness things almost too hard to take.
Over this past weekend, I and two of my colleagues attended the graveside service of a ten-year-old girl. Katie was the dear granddaughter of a good friend. Over the course of this past summer, we prayed for her and followed the sad progression of a wicked and terminal illness. We prayed for healing here on earth, but the Lord chose to welcome her home instead.
Standing under a blue sky on a warm Sunday afternoon, listening to the pastor recite Psalm 23, I was struck once again by the brevity and difficulty of life. But oddly, I was also inspired by observing the faith of a family forced to bid a sad good-bye to their precious little girl. Though tragic, there was a glimmer of triumph through the tears, because this family believes their Katie is now, and forever, nestled safely in the arms of an all-powerful and loving God.
“There is a difference between sorrow and despair,” writes Dr. Timothy Keller, in his new book, Counterfeit Gods. “Sorrow is pain for which there are sources of consolation. Sorrow comes from losing one good thing among others . . . Despair, however, is inconsolable, because it comes from losing an ultimate thing.”
Indeed, I didn’t see a spirit of despair this past weekend. Deep sorrow, yes, but not despair. In fact, I suspect Katie’s parents and grandparents even see heaven a bit differently now, knowing their cherished little girl awaits their arrival. It made me wonder, when trials and sadness come, do I despair? Or do I simply allow myself to mourn, remaining ever hopeful and knowing the Lord remains on His throne?
Two thoughts swirl about me. First, because “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25), I’ve taken comfort in the fact that while I may be shaken over my friends’ loss, I haven’t lost an “ultimate thing.” I do not have to give into despair because Jesus is still very much alive!
The second thing is this: I recognize that I can only see part of the story this side of heaven. That’s the message in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” So, even though God doesn’t always make sense to me, I believe—and know—He still ultimately makes sense.