God takes Ezekiel’s Wife ‘at a stroke’

The following singular personal account in the life of Ezekiel stands out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’. Poor Ezekiel, I feel for him. Derek Thomas calls this incident ‘one of the saddest and most difficult in Scripture.’ (God Strengthens, Derek Thomas p, 177, EP, 1993.)

Eze 24:15  The word of the LORD came to me:
Eze 24:16  “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.
Eze 24:17  Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.”
Eze 24:18  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

I was trying to think what it feels like to have ‘the delight of your eyes taken away.’ I described it the other day like having your insides sucked out through your eyes. The inner pain is indescribable. Unless you’ve been through it you have no idea. So like I say, I feel for Ezekiel.

A very hard providence

Whether his wife had been ill for some time we aren’t told. But it seems to be sudden and unexpected: hence literally ‘at a stroke’ would be the best interpretation I feel. A mercy really, for him and his wife. No protracted illness for her or long-term care for him. Nevertheless, a very hard providence. If a man like Ezekiel delighted in his wife, I’d expect her to be a Godly woman. There was more than looks going on here. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but it seems to me this verse from Peter would describe Ezekiel’s wife and the inner beauty of her godliness. 1 Peter 3:4  ‘but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.’ (1 Peter 3:1-6) Ezekiel will see her again. He knows this. His faith is in The Redeemer, the One to come. That is, his faith is in Christ. As was his wife, I believe. This softens the blow, but a blow Ezekiel would have keenly felt.

We don’t make excuses for God

Here we are in no doubt as to why Ezekiel’s wife is taken from him. It’s for a sign to Israel. And is for their good. Though it falls on unrepentant hearts. And, we are specifically told that God was going to ‘take away the delight of his eyes’. The cause is known. We don’t have to try and work it out or make apologies for God. I certainly feel no need to make apologies for God and feel no need to defend the fact that He is the potter, and we are the clay. (Isaiah 64:8) He is The Lord, He does what He wills.

Ezekiel wasn’t to weep or grieve – he was allowed to quietly sigh – for his wife even though everything within him would want to. And God knows this, otherwise, why give that command to not weep. God isn’t oblivious to what this will cost Ezekiel and the pain His prophet will experience. Even in this, He is still ‘the Father of all mercies.’ Ezekiel is allowed to sigh, ‘but not aloud.’ What a sigh that must have been!

We aren’t told anything about Ezekiel’s wife other than that she was ‘the delight of his eyes.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean she was unbelievably beautiful to look at, but it does mean he loved her very much. She was a delight to him. When he saw her his heart skipped a beat we might say. She was to be taken from him. She wasn’t lost but taken.

The Lord gives and The Lord takes away

To the unbeliever, and maybe for some Christians, this will seem incredibly cruel. However, the caricature of a vindictive and hateful God just isn’t true. I know. I’ve walked in Ezekiel’s shoes. Admittedly, I wasn’t commanded to ‘weep not’ like Ezekiel but I do know but what it’s like to have ‘the desire of your eyes’ taken away. And taken away by God. Like Ezekiel, I was under no illusion as to who was in control. It was The Lord who took away ‘the delight of my eyes.’ I could say with Job “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) This is a salutary lesson for us all. I’m sure Ezekiel wasn’t expecting this. He could say perhaps with Job ‘For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.’ (Job 3:25) We are NOT the masters of our own destiny. We aren’t in control. That thing you live for could be gone ‘at a stroke.’ And God doesn’t have to ask your permission or give notice. God can take away from our lives whatever He pleases – and that ‘at a stroke.’ Don’t deceive yourself into thinking all will be well when without Christ and without God, it won’t be.

Had Ezekiel sinned (I mean here in a specific instance as we are all fallen – including Ezekiel)? He had not. Had his wife sinned? We aren’t told, but I think we can infer not. The death of his wife then illustrates in a most tragic and powerful way the sudden destruction that is to come upon Jerusalem. Did the people get it? Did they respond to the sign? No, they did not.

How will you respond?

Will you respond to this sign? It’s as relevant now as it ever was. In our materialistic age, especially here in the West, we push our ‘inalienable rights’ to the limit. All the time God could take everything away at a stroke. Yes, and even our most precious things. And even our very own lives. Jesus put it this way ‘You fool, this night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20) Without being overly dramatic, this could well be your last day on earth. By evening you could be having to give an account of yourself before God! Without an advocate, without a Saviour that is, that is not something to look forward to.

Extreme Love from God

It probably seems quite extreme the lengths The Lord will go for the good of His lost people. He took Ezekiel’s wife, but that’s as nothing compared to the plan of God to rescue sinners. He has done this by sending into the world His Son. And the Son comes Himself to rescue and redeem.

Heb 10:5  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
Heb 10:6  in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:7  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The cost of Redemption is plainly stated by Christ ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (John 10:10&11) Nothing but the blood of Christ can redeem sinners like us. This is extreme love! You have heard this and you know this.

Be Reconciled

Much more could be said but in the words of the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 5:20):

‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

Diary of a grieving Christian – 1 Year Milestone

Copy of 2012-03-31 11.59.261 year ago today (1.30 PM) Sue passed into eternity to be with Christ which is far better. Frankly, I try to avoid the word died because if the Christian faith means anything at all, in a very real sense she hasn’t died. Yes, her body, her earthly remains are dead and in the ground. I know that only too well. I will be visiting the cemetery today. I still balk at the word loss or lost as she is neither. I do admit it is difficult to avoid using them. When I sing hymns that speak of heaven or being with The Lord Jesus I still well-up because in my minds’ eye I see her there in that happy and holy throng. It’s with a sense of great thankfulness to God mixed with the gut-wrenching desire for her to be here with me. I miss her so.

It’s a remarkable thing marriage. If we try to do it right and truly become ‘one flesh’ as Jesus tells us to, we invest everything into it. (That includes the Bank account. We only had one account and our salaries were paid into that one account.) It’s a physical thing. It was that. Of course it was, otherwise, we wouldn’t have our three wonderful children. But it’s so much more that as well. Our wife or husband sees us in our vulnerability, at our worst, sees our body get old and flabby, sees us in our sin, in our failures, in our weakness and yet learns to love and care all the same. And, what a blessing it is to enjoy one another’s company, to like being with each other. And so often, to say so much, without saying anything. She used to wear my sweatshirts especially when decorating.

Given the oneness of marriage, please don’t think I’m over it because a year has gone by. I was recently speaking with a widow. She still has those times when the grief is raw after many years. I have to tell myself and realise the sadness isn’t going to be over anytime soon. I am learning to have part of me missing.

A lot of our marriage investment is done unconsciously at a deep deep level. It has to be so if the marriage vows are taken seriously. When we enter into that covenant; I don’t think we fully realise quite what that means. I wonder that in some supernatural way God fuses us together even deeper than the atomic level. God does this at the spiritual level. Something unseen that cannot be probed. Something that can’t be touched. We mess with marriage as our society is doing, and we mess at a level where the consequences are huge. And we are seeing the consequences. Marriage is for one man and one woman – that’s it. ‘Gay’ marriage is deeply sinful and rebellious. (I’ll have to do a separate post on this)

More than one person has told me I was punching above my weight with Sue. She was stunningly beautiful to the end, she was wise, nearly always right, ok, always right and incredibly capable. She loved me and the kids more than life itself. Above all, she was a Godly woman of prayer. Yet so disparaging of herself. She wasn’t perfect. I hope where she lacked I took up the slack as it were and the other way round too. We often said to each that we were a team. So despite her being way above my pay-grade, God had other ideas. I have heard it said that as long as your betrothed ticks the relevant boxes the person you marry could be anyone. We didn’t believe that for one moment. We believed and I still believe God brought us together. (Though I guess the means could be different) She could have done a lot lot better than marrying me. And when I told her that she would tell me off. We used to say to each other, we would do it again. We wouldn’t swap each other. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. God kept us together too. And however long I have on this earth I will have to deal with the parting every day. I’m told over time you do learn to live with it. But it never goes away.

Today, Wednesday is when she left for heaven. Friday would have been her birthday, then it will be my birthday, then the first funeral anniversary (7th Dec), then Christmas. It’s been quite a year. I left work, moved to another part of the country, left several friends, left Church, sold the house, put most of our stuff in storage, started attending another Church, moved into rented accommodation, brought some stuff out of storage, searched for and looked at loads of houses and I’m now in the process of buying a house. So there will be the move, then getting all our stuff out of storage, sorting (again) through the things we shared together, settling into the new house, and breathe (that’s for you Jilly. Thank you).

I have a lot I would like to write about. Please pray I would get on and do it and that it would be helpful and profitable to others. I am reading a few books that I will comment on. Some very helpful stuff out there. But in the end, all praise is to God and our Lord Jesus for keeping us from falling. Where would we be if it were not for the Grace of God! We daily raise our Ebenezer and say Hitherto has the Lord helped us. I do anyway. And I know many of you do as well.

Speaking of investing all, isn’t this exactly what Jesus did for us! We don’t really invest everything do we, but Jesus did and does. His providential dealings are remarkable. There are many many references to marriage in the Bible. It’s no accident the Church is called the Bride of Christ. Jesus invested His blood into us poor faltering failing sinners. He doesn’t cast us off. No. He has vowed to keep us, to forgive us and cleanse us. Sue liked me holding her, she felt safe. O how much much more are we His people safe in His mighty arms. My dear non-Christian friend, how I long that you might be safe and know the love of Christ, that He is mighty to save and mighty to keep. O call upon Him for Salvation and safety, and love, and forgiveness, and then eternal joy with Christ which is far better.

Thank you for bearing with me.

A Grief Continued

I was told the Christian Bookshop (Michael Keen) had ordered several copies of a book on grieving by Al Martin, a well-known preacher in Reformed Baptist circles. Michael very kindly handed me a copy yesterday morning after the service. Opening the book on the way back to the car I began to read.

The very first paragraph is gripping and took me immediately to the bedside of Sue as she breathed her last. To say I began to hyperventilate is a slight exaggeration but it’s a moment I have relived over and over and over again. It’s not nice. After nearly 11 months the emotions still come back with great vividness and force. The agony and the grief that wells up in the depths of my being are there in that first paragraph of  the book. It’s very obvious to me that Pastor Martin is reliving that moment. I know he has experienced this and I’m gripped, wanting to read what this man has to say.

As I walked racing through my mind was the thought to ‘isolate, isolate, isolate’. I felt the need to get away from people. The reality is this is not a good thing. Isolation is different from solitude. I like the solitude of staring out to sea. We all need solitude from time to time. It’s when our emotions run away from us like a freight train that we are to ‘take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ’. It isn’t easy when our emotions are SCREAMING to us one thing, but then seek to do the very opposite. Staying away from Church and people is understandable and sometimes can be helpful, but long-term is destructive and unhelpful. The thought of isolation needs to be brought into obedience. I often fail miserably.

Back to the book. I dipped into future chapters so I ‘might’ Blog through the book. There is one particular chapter in which he will deal with some very heavy theology that I too have had to work through. Pastor Martin wrote it for his own understanding and to help others. I’ll be blogging (if I do), as before, for the same reasons. So I trust even this brief post will have been helpful.

Just one further note. His book is for Christians when their loved ones have died ‘in Christ’. Like me, the loved one for Al Martin was his dear wife. However, should any non-believers come across the book they will be pointed to the God of all comfort and to The Lord Jesus Christ ‘whom to know is life eternal’. The Gospel is here.

I have only just started to read this book, but already, I have read enough to highly recommend it.

 

A Response to a Painful Referendum Result

A young mother has written a Blog Post about the Referendum result and has asked for a response from a Christian that voted Leave. I know very little about her so I hope she will forgive me for being impersonal. Here’s my attempt at an answer. You can read her post HERE.

It’s been a week or so now but I have thought a lot about a particular Blog post and just what to say because it deserves a response. A response I notice is still forthcoming. I’m qualified to answer her because I voted to leave. I hope what follows will help. Whilst I would not go as far as to compare it with bereavement, it does give an indication of how badly she feels about it now (it may pass). It’s a passionate truly heartfelt piece of writing. What’s particularly good about it is that she is having to face up to some harsh realities. If she does want to compare it to bereavement she needs to realise those feelings aren’t going to go away any time soon. In fact they may get worse. And, no matter how she feels about it, it will not alter the fact of the situation. And another thing to consider is the situation may never ever improve. And, she is truly powerless to change it. Forget voting and all that nonsense, if people truly believe they are in control of their destiny they are delusional. They aren’t. We aren’t. You aren’t.

She speaks of coming out the other side with grace and love. That begs the question, does she know she will come out of the other side? She doesn’t. It’s finding grace and love in it.

As she indicates, people say things to the bereaved that aren’t always helpful even though they do mean well. In the main people don’t quite know how to deal with it so can appear unhelpful while trying to say something positive. Mostly, they just don’t know what to say. But wish they did.

We don’t know if God cares deeply about our membership (or not) of the EU as an organisation. I’d need some scriptures to back that up. We know He cares about His people. He cares about His Church. He cares about people. He also cares about His Glory. He cares about the Gospel. The Bible tells us that. It also tells us He sent the Chaldeans to take His people captive. And He brought judgement upon them. It tells us He disciplines us as well. And even if God does care deeply about the EU, you won’t find anywhere in the Bible which was the right way to vote.

I responded with some quick-fire responses on Facebook – a couple of hymns. And a post on my Blog.

That’s my general reply. Here’s a brief comment on her 5 points. I’ll finish with a comment on her conclusion. Finally, I’ll write what I think she needs to know because she is talking about something quite profound. And something I too have to come to terms with.

  1. I agree. We only need to read the Psalms to see the truth of this. Her feelings are legitimate.
  2. Nothing much to say here except that she will need to understand where they (Leave) are coming from as well. Some of the ‘remain’ responses have been quite vile. I agree though, it isn’t helpful either way and we do need to be compassionate.
  3. She says we won’t understand. I beg to differ. She has used the term grief and bereavement. I know only too well what that feels like. We live in no less an uncertain world now than we did before the Referendum. The difference is she understands a little of that now.
  4. I’m talking. But Leave or Remain isn’t the issue. I am deeply flawed as well. I struggle to be gracious about anything. I’m glad for her it’s only politics. Winning or losing isn’t the issue either.
  5. I am bothered about politics. But it isn’t my whole life. I like to know what’s going on and try to be informed. But I accept the challenge; maybe I should be more involved. For me, joining a political party is not an option!

Most of my writing is a scramble of stuff, but her scrambling is a lot better than mine. I’m not one of her friends so I can’t say much about the last paragraph other than try to be gracious both ways.

And yet. And yet, I totally believe with my heart and my head that God is in control; yes, indeed, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). I know my citizenship is not of this earth; I know that God is sovereign; I know that my primary concern is the spread of the Gospel and his Kingdom, not earthly principalities. (From her Blog Post)

That is a key paragraph it seems to me. It’s trying to bring together what you feel and what you know. I feel all sorts of things. God gave us feelings. It’s the way He made us. Sometimes though our feelings don’t square with what we believe but we feel it anyway. Or, it can ‘simply’ be tough to deal with traumatic events in our lives. It can be devastating. And it can be just as devastating when what you feel is what you believe. (You would need to read my posts on grieving to get that) And those around us aren’t always going to understand. And that’s hard as well. So the article, I think, is trying to honestly deal with these things from a Christian perspective. It’s when our expectations or what we thought would happen are crossed with a catastrophic event. And who’s to say what that event will be. To her, at this time, it’s leaving the EU.

I’ve considered how things can feel for quite some time. So I do understand that she feels how she does. In a sense it’s not for me to understand why she feels that way (her politics maybe) but to understand that she feels it at all.

The Sovereignty of God can be understood as something ‘out there’ as it were. Like the Government. They make laws and we react to them. The Sovereignty of God isn’t like that at all. Yes, He is in control of the whole of creation. And yet He is in control of my circumstances in such a minute way that Government couldn’t even begin to understand. Through the later stages of Sue’s illness, and even from the terminal diagnosis, we talked a lot about God’s Sovereignty. Soon after Sue died, it was something I had to face in a new way.

Soon after Sue died I read about the death of John the Baptist. Now that raises some important issues. Tough issues. John was cousin to Jesus. Do you think Jesus cared for him? He knew John would die. He could have prevented the axe from falling – but He didn’t. He could have given Herod a bit of resolve to refuse the hateful request – but He didn’t. However, it isn’t just that God passively watches events and the circumstances of our lives as a hapless bystander. Not at all! He actually willed the death of John the Baptist and He actually willed the death of my wife. And it isn’t just wishful thinking, as it were, on the part of God; His omnipotence is able to carry it out. His omnipotence also delivered a Leave verdict. But there’s more.

He knew the effect it would have on the writer of the Blog post. He could have moved circumstances in a way that she would be much more sympathetic to the Leave vote. He could have moved the hearts of more people to vote Remain. He could have ensured a different result. Just a few adjustments here and there by God and there would have been a different result. He could even have moved her to vote Leave. In doing so she would not be experiencing ‘an overwhelming sense of sadness, anger, bewilderment, betrayal, desperation, and powerlessness’. But none of that happened. Back to Matthew 14 and the death of John the Baptist. Mat 14:13  ‘Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.’ It seems to me Jesus was grieving for His friend, cousin and forerunner. Even though it was something He could have prevented! Isn’t that amazing? Is it possible Jesus brings us into the sphere of suffering that we might be like Him and have compassion on the people? She has asked for understanding. She has it. Can she have compassion on those that voted Leave? Is it possible The Lord of All brought in a Leave verdict for her good though so painful?

We do not know what the Lord will bring about politically through the result of the Referendum. Maybe the doom-mongers will be right. Maybe it would have been even worse had it gone the other way. One thing I do know, or at least I have observed; there is little calling upon the Lord for mercy. There is little compassion shown either way. There is much recrimination and blame. Where is kindness? We see it in our suffering. We were never promised a life of ease. But Jesus is with us in our suffering and though we may feel on the verge of despair – by the Grace of God it is enough.

I have said enough. I hope it’s of some help.

‘Grieving: Your path back to Peace’ by James R. White – A Recommendation

IMG_0594I had the book ‘Grieving’ by James White for a few months but didn’t read it. No idea why but I decided to start reading it on the Sunday (22/11/2015). I finished it on Monday morning, the day Sue died.

Why this book? The reason for buying this particular book is twofold. I knew from listening to The Dividing Line that Dr White had been a Hospital Chaplin so I figured he would know what he’s talking about. I didn’t realise he had been a grief counsellor until I started reading but it made perfect sense. The other reason was that I didn’t want to read a book and be either disagreeing with the author or wonder quite what perspective they were coming from. I knew his theology and was prepared to learn. In my grieving I didn’t want the additional grief of reading bad or soppy theology.

As I read the book my reasons were justified. It is an excellent little book. And that’s a plus – it’s a little book. I didn’t want to read some massive tome on grieving. Nevertheless, unlike the previous reviews it is a book that is laid out well and the type is easy to read. By the time I write this review I will have read it again. As pointed out in the book – and I knew this would be the case – while Sue was alive the grieving couldn’t truly start. There’s a massive difference! And nothing prepares you for it. I am now truly on the grieving pathway and it isn’t pleasant!

Contents

  1. Autumn’s Grandpa Mike
  2. Am I The Only One That Feels This Way?
  3. The Patterns of Grief
  4. The Work of Grieving
  5. Avoiding the Pitfalls
  6. The Tough Questions
  7. Getting Through

The chapters are short and straight to the point. There’s very little verbiage, if any (Unlike my writing). He offers advice on practical issues like dealing with the clothes and not creating a shrine for your loved one. There is definitely a pull to do exactly that! So, it was helpful to flag that up. He doesn’t dodge the issue of the Sovereignty of God – this is the will of God. After reading it for the first time it was obvious – to me anyway – that I will need to come back to it or sections of it as I work through the grief over and over again. I don’t believe the book will be anywhere near as helpful unless I continue my habit of regularly reading The Scriptures. The book is written primarily for the Christian even though as Dr White points out much of the grieving process is common to humanity as we are all made in the image of God.

It has actually been a few weeks now since Sue died and even though I wasn’t at the time of the first reading on the grieving pathway I have refered to the book several times. I’m actually glad I read it just before Sue died. Dr White, as far as I know, hasn’t gone down the path I am on, but he really does understand and it comes through in the writing.

I would like to thank Dr White for this book. I am glad to have read it and found it extremely helpful both spiritually and practically. It isn’t a panacea, and it isn’t meant to be, but it is honest and makes no unrealistic promises that all will soon be well because they probably won’t be. I would say out of the three, so far, get this one first. I don’t know if it would have helped to have read it much sooner, maybe weeks or even months before Sue died, but I do believe Pastors / Ministers / Elders should read it and have copies readily to hand.

The book is available in The US & The UK

 

So Sorry for Your Loss – Some Thoughts

‘Sorry for your loss’ the Funeral guy said, as he shook my hand on the way out of the house to take Sue to the Funeral home (is that what they call it?). I couldn’t watch them take her. When he said that to me, I thought ‘is that it?’. It made me think of the typical ‘Cop Show’ or in a film where they have to tell the bereaved ‘sorry for your loss’. I don’t want to be cynical, really I don’t. I couldn’t see into the man’s heart so I just accept his sincere condolences – in a kind of numbed way. I suppose it’s an inoffensive phrase that no-one will object to. As a professional he has to say something. He’s at the cutting edge when people are most vulnerable to hurt and upset. It’s a short phrase that doesn’t prolong the visit. It just wouldn’t be appropriate to engage in a long conversation. I certainly didn’t want one. So I guess it did the job. ‘Sorry for your loss’ – Short and inoffensive. Then I’m back to feeling just numbed.

So, I’m in Church on a Sunday evening and a young man comes to me and says ‘so sorry for your loss’. He’s a Christian. I’m a bit taken aback. I remember when they came to collect Sue. I accept his condolences, as you do. Again, I accept the sincerity of it. He did come and speak to me and I appreciated that. So I’m not having a go at anyone. But it made me think: shouldn’t we as believers be able to say more than that. I include myself.  Is that the best we can do? I mentioned it to someone else and they said ‘it’s because they don’t know what to say’. I understand that. But surely if we really do have the Hope we say we have isn’t there something else we can say. Is saying to a fellow believer, no matter how sincere and well intentioned, ‘sorry for your loss’ even a Biblical thing to say?

It’s so easy to unintentionally give offence or cause upset. I confess, I’m hyper sensitive at the moment and no more so than when they came to collect Sue – just numbed would be more accurate. So we resort to these clichéd phrases that ‘do the job’ and ‘get us off the hook’. Phew, I said ‘something’.

Again, I’m in conversation with someone; they said when talking to a believer whose wife had just died – I cut in and said ‘I do hope you didn’t say ‘sorry for your loss’. They did. But with the comment that it’s only an opening gambit that leads to further conversation. Well, maybe. But the bereaved man said ‘I haven’t lost my wife, I know exactly where she is!’ Nice reply. And true.

On the other hand, if we are going to use the phrase, we ought to be aware of what it is we are saying. Even if the phrase ‘sorry for your loss’ isn’t used we still need to be aware that the bereaved believer has suffered a catastrophic loss. And so have those that were closest to them, not least of which is the children and very special friends. What is marriage but the complete intertwining of two lives. When the Bible says the two become one, it isn’t an exaggeration, it isn’t using hyperbole. It’s tangible, real, deep and profound. So deep in fact that Paul says ‘I am talking about Christ and the Church – deep indeed. I’ll have more to say on this another time. But I write this for now so we have an inkling of what it is we are saying if we choose to use the phrase ‘sorry for your loss’.

Having your wife, your best friend, die is about the worst thing that can happen to someone and it’s probably impossible to know what to say in each situation as we are all so very different. So, ‘Sorry for your loss’ gets round that. Rather than just be cynical or critical I’d like to offer some alternatives. We have a whole Bible to use plus 2000 years of Church history and so many wonderful hymns to draw from. My plea is that we can surely do better.

You might be able to tell, but most of this post has been in my ‘Draft’ folder for a few weeks now. But I recently read an article that confirms and supports my contention that we can do better when it comes to speaking to the bereaved believer. The article is ‘The fat lady is already singing‘ by Gary Brady and is available in the Evangelical Magazine on-line HERE. In case you read this Gary – thanks again.

Please be aware they will mostly just be completely numbed. Also remember that unless you have had a similar shattering providence you won’t understand – you are unlikely to understand. So don’t say you do because you most likely won’t. If you really don’t know what to say and the grieving believer is not that well-known to you, may I suggest two options:

  1. Simply send a card (or a text) and say ‘I/we are praying that you will know the consolations of the Gospel’. Put a good Gospel verse in the card. The bereaved believer can read it at their own convenience and will really appreciate the kindness. They may well come up to you and thank you for the card. They might not, but be assured it will have helped, especially if you do remember them in prayer.
  2. You don’t know what to say. Well, the bereaved believer often doesn’t know what to say back either. So it’s helpful to take the pressure off and say something like: ‘I don’t know what to say but I/we are praying that you will know the grace of God in upholding you’. Be brief and don’t expect or wait for a reply. Be thankful that they will appreciate your kindness – and especially your prayers. No need to make a commitment to them. But do pray for them at least once.

Of course you don’t have to say anything at all. You don’t have to send a card either. Your Amen at the prayer meeting or your Amen during the prayer on Sunday is equally precious. I hope and pray this post will get us thinking. It has made me think. What will I say to the bereaved spouse whose world has just collapsed. A number of cards sent to me do have ‘sorry for your loss’ in them with other helpful words. I have appreciated them all very much. It’s too painful at the moment but in time I hope to read through them again. All I’m saying is that with the Unsearchable Riches we have in Christ we can and should do much better.

‘Christians Grieve Too’ by Donald Howard – A Review

ChristiansGrieveToo‘Christians Grieve Too’ by Donald Howard is the second booklet I am briefly reviewing. It’s published by Banner of Truth and is also available at the usual outlets. The booklet came out of the authors own grief two years after his wife died of cancer. Knowing that helps. This author has been there.

The title, I think, says a lot. The scripture says we grieve not as the world. It doesn’t say we don’t grieve.

It is a 32 page booklet. It is short. We like short. We like easy to read as well. I have found my mind is affected by grief. I can’t concentrate as well, I can’t remember so well and have trouble sifting things through in my mind. Yes, we like easy to read.

The chapters are:

Preface
The Reality of Grief
The Experience of Grief
Complications of Grief
The Relief of Grief
Hope in our Grief
Our Blessed Hope

I included the preface because what is said there, thought very brief, is important. He quotes C S Lewis saying he and his wife were prepared for death but not for grief. This was also the experience of Donald Howard. It’s my experience as well. I was not, and I am still not prepared perhaps as I should have been for just how devastating grief is.

The overall impression is what it says on the tin. Christians Grieve Too. The booklet expounds this idea. I found it helpful.

I said at the start ‘This author has been there’. And this is very clearly stated in the ‘Reality of Grief’ and ‘The Experience of Grief’. The other two authors have not. That alone doesn’t make it any better to read. But to me, it is relevant. It helps to know the author understands.

We grieve then, but we don’t grieve as others because we have hope. It is a ‘blessed hope’. This hope is only found in Jesus Christ.

As a small booklet it could be given out to Church members so they have at least some idea of what the bereaved person is going through. Whether it is your present experience or not, I would still recommend reading it.

The Christian & The Death of a Loved One by Peter Jeffery – A Brief Review

img_0566

Over the next couple of weeks or so I plan on reviewing two small booklets and a short book on grieving. All three are Christian books.

The first one I’ll be reviewing is ‘The Christian and the Death of a Loved One’ by Peter Jeffery. It’s produced privately by Peter so to get copies you will need to contact him through his website.

Some of you will know that my wonderful wife Sue went to Glory at the end of November 2015 and so this is the context in which I write.

The booklet is super short (16 pages A5), about the length of a chapter in a book with a few headings and could be read very easily in about half an hour or so. Short and easy to read is good. Some sections are only a few paragraphs so there is little waffle and the writing is straight to the point as you would expect. The Headings are:

Sorrow and Comfort
The Comfort of Friends
The God of All Comfort
The Believers Unbelief
Resurrection (1)
Do You Believe This?
God is in Control
Resurrection (2)

There are several helpful quotes, but for me, the most helpful by far, is from William Hendrickson in the section ‘God of All Comfort’. It reads as follows:

‘In the heart of Martha the darkness of grief and the light of hope were engaged in deadly combat. Sometimes her lips gave expression to her near despair, then again to her optimism. Here is a woman, deeply emotional. But, here is also a disciple of Jesus, her soul filled with reverence for her Lord. Here is, consequently, a heart, stirred to its depths, and swaying between grief and hope.’

That is my current experience. So it’s comforting to know I’m not going crazy even though at times it feels like it.

In places Peter was a little too stern I thought, but on the other hand it wouldn’t be helpful to overly molly coddle someone, even someone in the midst of grief. The most important thing the grieving person needs to hear is the truth of the Gospel. That doesn’t mean you batter them with Gospel Truth, but hear its truth they must, and as sensitively and as loving as possible.

It could be a bit over prescriptive at times; for example, expecting the grieving believer to fully have the fear of death removed. They may well experience this full assurance but we shouldn’t assume it. By assuming it, the emotions of the believer, already in turmoil, could do without the added burden of wondering if they have a true faith or not. They may have already thought that anyway so be careful.

The strength of the booklet by a mile is that it constantly points the believer to Christ and the Gospel wherein lies our hope. ‘To whom else shall we go’ said Peter to Jesus, ‘you alone have the words of eternal life’. We are also directed to the fact that God is in Control – even if in the midst of our grief it doesn’t feel like it. We are taken ultimately to the Resurrection with the knowledge that The Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death! We can have confidence that our believing loved one is with Christ which is far better.

For a brief booklet it is well written and packed full. It is quite general though, so don’t expect it to answer every question or address every issue but nevertheless it’s well worth reading. I would recommend reading it alongside something else, maybe one of the others I’ll be reviewing.

Would I recommend giving this to someone in the midst of grieving over a loved one? Yes I would. The positive Gospel emphasis and some excellent quotes make up for a few limitations. The booklet will help give you that Gospel focus. Just be sure you read it before giving it to someone.

Be discerning. But let me just say, please please don’t then keep asking if they have read the particular book / booklet / leaflet / tract or whatever YOU gave them. Just simply pray that God would guide them and be their comfort.

Finally, be aware, the grieving person has their senses heightened to an extraordinary level. They may feel things in a completely different way to how they did before entering the grieving process. They will hear your words but may not have a clue how to respond. So don’t expect too much of them and although you want to help don’t put the burden on them to either make decisions, answer your probing questions or make you feel better.

That’s the first of the three reviews.

Diary of a Grieving Christian – 7 (How are you doing?)

It’s been little while since the last post. I’m conflicted about what to say or whether to say anything at all. Sue died 4 weeks ago today (21/12/2015). How am I doing? Well, I’m still breathing (thank you Jilly). It’s a day at a time. But I wonder daily if I can keep it up – yet by God’s Grace here I am. Living without Sue is awful, intolerable even. I can’t put it any other way.

One Christian brother put it to me this way; ‘What a blessing marriage is – and therefore what a grief in the parting’. I appreciated that. And I feel both so very keenly.

At Church yesterday morning I was asked something like, ‘Are you back to being at peace now?’ I said, ‘No, in fact it seems to be getting worse’. They then said, ‘Are you back at work?’ ‘No’, I replied. ‘What do you think is preventing you from getting back to work?’ I was silent for some moments, and then asked what they were doing for Christmas. I needed to get away from that conversation, and needed to just get away period. I know isolation isn’t helpful, but my reaction is to avoid Church when people ask such things. I know they mean well and I know they pray for me. And it’s appreciated, but even Job’s ‘friends’ sat in silence for a while.

We supported each other. Sue called me her rock, but I needed her just as much. We were a team, a good team at that. We needed each other and I’m sure that is how it should be.

The union of a man and a woman is about as close a relationship as is possible in this life. And so when the Bible says that marriage portrays the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church, we are given an indication of just how close the bond is between a man and his wife. The Bible describes it as being ‘one flesh’. Husbands are told to ‘love their wifes as Christ loved the Church’. It’s why adultery is such a heinous crime. There’s much more to be said on this, not as a ‘diary post’ though but as a separate topic.

That’s it for now.

 

Diary of a Grieving Christian – 6 (The Burial & Funeral Service)

Follow this link to listen to the whole service. Funeral Service of Sue Iliff

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maybe a couple more and then I’ll probably get back to the usual posts interspersed with things I’ve learned over the last year or so or a ‘kind of’ diary entry. Waking up today (Tuesday 8th December 2015) in many ways is far worse because I now have to think about life without Sue, and move on as they say. But I don’t want to ‘move on’. Although I’ve talked about ‘moving on’ I have no idea what that means without Sue. For now, I’ll walk through Sunday and the day of the Funeral – yesterday Monday 7th December 2015. The whole Service was recorded. And I think it was just such an amazing service. The church was pretty well full. The Gospel was clearly proclaimed. The singing was wonderful. Without a doubt, God was in that service! And to bless!

So on Sunday I stayed at home all day. I planned on going to the evening service but in the end just couldn’t face it. Instead I joined Robert and the folks at IBC in Sacramento for their morning service on-line. I seriously wondered how I would get through the Burial and the Service on Monday. I was dreading it. I even thought about not turning up. Monday came and I started the day by lying awake worrying if the burial would be in the right place and a number of other things I seemed to only just be thinking about. Didn’t people throw roses or something into the open grave? What an idiot – I just hadn’t thought it all through and now it was too late to do anything about it. I read my Bible and prayed. Then I got up.
It helped that the family were here. Ruth and Adrian were on their way with the kids. I was hoping my suit would fit. It was horrible not having Sue making sure I had dressed myself correctly. I came downstairs, saw myself in the mirror and just felt so sad that Sue wasn’t with me – we did everything together. Rhodri & Sybil also arrived and we gathered in the living room  because I wanted us to pray before leaving. Chris and Adrian prayed. As we stood to leave, I said, ‘remember, as Sue would have said, her body is there, but she isn’t’. We then got in the cars and made our way to the cemetery.

One of the first things I noticed when we arrived at the cemetery was that Ruth came with a bunch of single Roses. Dear Ruth. I wasn’t sure how many would be at the burial. But I soon realised there were a lot more than I expected. All waiting for us to approach. Everything was in place. The grave was where I had hoped it would be (but worried about). I felt calm and at peace. Julie from the Funeral Directors briefly explained what would happen and directed us to the right spot – right in front of the grave with the coffin ready to be lowered. Everyone gathered round. Paul (Pastor Paul Watts) spoke beautifully, movingly and with much conviction. As Christians we can speak with conviction the truths of the Gospel even when death is quite literally right before our eyes.

My dear, dear, darling Sue’s body is now in the ground waiting for the resurrection at the final day, when Jesus will be revealed in all those that have believed and those that have rejected Him will call upon the very rocks to cover them from the face of the Lamb of God who will now be their Judge.

One of the things that stood out as testimony was the diversity of people that came to the burial or the service or both. People she had worked with from 30 years before, others from more recent times, friends and even girls from where she had her hair done. She touched a lot of people, all sorts of people, not all from the church either, but couldn’t see it in herself as you will hear.

I needn’t say too much about the funeral as the whole service was recorded (link above & below). But once we were all there and seated Paul began to lead the service. (Our Son Chris and Ruth’s husband Adrian gave tributes. Our friend Trevor Thomas read from the Scripture and Chris’s Pastor Geoff Thomas prayed.) The church was well-nigh full. Sue endeared herself to a lot of people. I don’t know what I thought throughout really. But the Gospel was faithfully preached and very clearly. We pray for fruit. There were a couple of times my emotions nearly got the better of me but I hung in there. Afterwards it was a case of trying to meet and thank as many people as possible. Sharon the lady that first spoke to Sue about Jesus was there with her husband and ‘naughty boy’ Paul. My Best Man Mike was there. It was lovely to see so many. By the end of the service I was shattered. So many people at our church (Lower Ford Street Baptist Church, Coventry) helped make the day happen. I am so thankful to God for all the people there that have prayed and helped and supported. ‘See how they love one another’.

The day(s) after is another story. Now what do I do?

Follow this link to listen to the service. Funeral Service of Sue Iliff