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.’

Two Responses to Suffering (including a Disastrous Brexit)

The Problem of Evil has been classed as ‘The Achilles Heel’ of Christianity. Theologians and philosophers have been discussing and debating this ‘problem’ for centuries. There is a new book out on this: Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It?)’ by Greg Welty and I hope to write a brief review of this in due time. But for now, as I started that book my mind turned to two completely different responses to evil.

This present world (and its evil)

No one lives in this world for long without realising that something is wrong. And if you’ve lived long enough, and sometimes even if you haven’t lived so long, you’ll realise there’s something really really seriously wrong. Christians don’t get a free pass on suffering either. We live in the same world as everyone else. The difference is we know what it is that’s gone wrong. The ingenuity of man is remarkable and works tirelessly to make the world a better place. And that’s a good thing. But some things just can’t be fixed.

Two responses to suffering and evil

Vehemently protest against it if you will but here are two views, or two responses the Bible offers on the evil in the world. We might protest against it but the plain fact of the matter is that God quite purposefully sends some of the evils in the world. No, I don’t know which ones are sent to you and I don’t make a direct correlation between your behaviour or your circumstances and your suffering. Sometimes, maybe most times, there is no outside observable direct correlation. Not one I could confidently make anyway.

The response of the Godly

None of us always respond in an appropriate manner, nevertheless, there are, broadly speaking, two responses that are quite different. Suffering is grievous. It’s unpleasant. It’s painful. It can be long or short. We don’t like it. It’s real and comes in a multitude of ways. The vicissitudes of life are visited on all of us. The Apostle Paul describes the present suffering of believers in this way:

Rom 8:18  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
2Co 4:16  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
2Co 4:17  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

It was originally a caricature of a Salvation Army song, but in actuality, it really is ‘pie in the sky when you die’. And what right-thinking person wouldn’t want a slice of that particular pie! You might well mock, as the original composer, that it’s ‘pie in the sky when you die’. Nevertheless, it’s a true hope and expectation. Mock on, for your mocking doesn’t make it any less real. Paul compares the glory that is to come to our present sufferings. He does the calculation. There is no comparison between it and our present situation – whatever that may be. So it also has a present power as well. I have witnessed this power first hand. I am not speaking of hearsay.

Our response to suffering ought to bring us closer to God. Sadly it isn’t always the case, but often it is. It makes us realise our fragility and the need for help. We don’t have the resources but God does provide. This is my testimony and is the testimony of Christians for centuries. But as the people of God even in our darkest times, God is still keeping, guiding, and preparing us for that time when we shall see Him face to face and ‘cast our crowns before Him and fall on our faces at His throne ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.

The response to the suffering of the believer is that it points them to the suffering of Christ and to the evil of their own hearts. ‘Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2).

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12:3).

That is the right response, to consider Him, to consider the redeeming costly work of Christ.

The response of the ungodly

There’s another response. And as everything leads to Brexit these days, you’ll have to forgive me for briefly considering it. What if Brexit is the complete and utter disaster many are predicting? And it may be a disaster. I think we should consider it as a serious possibility that this is the will of God being played out before us. I don’t say it is. I don’t know. I say let’s consider it as a possibility. The Bible tells us in Revelation that God sent terrible judgments on the world. What is the response?

Rev 9:18  By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.
Rev 9:19  For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.
Rev 9:20  The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk,
Rev 9:21  nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

And again in Chapter 16:

Rev 16:9  They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
Rev 16:10  The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish
Rev 16:11  and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

They did not repent but instead, their response was to curse God. I don’t see a humble crying out to God in repentance as a response to Brexit – or to President Trump for that matter. I don’t see a National mourning for sin over Trump or Brexit. If it’s as serious as we are led to believe shouldn’t we be calling on God for help and forgiveness? I don’t see it. No, the response is to curse the providence of God. Even though it’s going to be an absolute disaster! There’s an outcry. For a second referendum, for a change of government and blame. But instead of humility or sorrow, it’s anger and resentment.

Your circumstances might be such that all this talk of the EU and Brexit has completely passed you by and is nothing more than an annoying distraction. I went to a funeral last week. There was rejoicing. The deceased was a believer. But there was much sadness too as friends and family keenly felt the departure. Pain and suffering have been described as God’s megaphone. He uses it to get our attention. Has he got yours?

Two ends

Suffering for the unrepentant, the scoffer, and Christ rejecter is but a foretaste of the judgment to come. To the Christian, suffering is but a light affliction compared to glory. But suffering for the ungodly is but a light judgment compared to the awful weight of the final judgment. Their suffering confirms their end.

Thr best response

That all sounds extremely gloomy. It is if your faith is not in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is still calling people to repentance and faith towards His Son The Lord Jesus Christ. Job was tempted by his wife to ‘curse God and die’. Job replied by saying:

“You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10).

Many speak foolishly. In the end, Job said this to God:

… I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).”

God graciously brought Job to see that Job wasn’t God. Job was no more in control of his destiny than we are. We can hardly prevent ourselves from getting a cold. Let alone our eternal destiny!

The Good News is that God is still calling sinners, the ungodly, to Himself that they might know the love of Christ that passes all understanding. As the hymn writer says, ‘Love to loveless shown, that they might lovely be’. Christians, like everyone else, suffer in this life but their ‘song is love unknown’.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

1. My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

2. He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But oh, my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

3. Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!”
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry.

4. They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suffering goes,
That He His foes
From thence might free.

5. In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein He lay.

6. Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.

Samuel Crossman, 1624 – 83.

‘Tackling Mental Illness Together’ by Alan Thomas – Brief Review

The author is ‘Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at Newcastle University and works as a consultant psychiatrist in the National Health Service’. He is also a ‘church elder with preaching and pastoral responsibilities’. Professor Thomas explains in the introduction that this is not an academic work (as other books he has written) but is for ministers and leaders in the Church. I’m neither, but my wife (Sue) worked for a counseling organisation for several years so I have an interest, albeit as a layman. Also, I have friends that have suffered from or are suffering from some sort of mental disorder and I have experienced in a small measure anguish of the soul and mind. I also believe an appropriate measure of understanding is called for, by Christians of other Christians, that suffer in this way. Professor Thomas is a Christian and is writing from that perspective. My first wife Sue, surrounded as she was at work with political correctness, humanistic thinking and opposition to the Biblical message would have very much appreciated this book.

Just a personal preferential moan so I can get it out of the way. It doesn’t have an index, which is a little disappointing. It would have been helpful. I’m not a big fan of endnotes either but an additional bookmark works well. The endnotes give helpful explanations without being too technical and there’s a Glossary of the most used ‘technical’ terms. For what could be an incredibly dense text, given the subject, the style is easy to read with good divisions and (amusing) headings and at the end of each chapter he gives a bullet summary which again is really helpful.

The book is in stark contrast to the Nouthetic (Biblical) Counselling of Jay Adams.

Thomas lays out the Biblical teaching that we are all made in the image of God and designed for relationships yet fallen. Because we are designed for relationships the church can play an important part in the recovery (for some) and support of those in our churches that suffer from prolonged or continual mental illness. It’s often the carers that need the support. And these aren’t forgotten – especially in the last chapter.

There are several unidentifiable but genuine cases referenced throughout the book with some personal (anonymous) testimonies towards the end. These help to make it all the more relevant. This isn’t fantasy. The more serious cases, such as of schizophrenia, aren’t going to be cured by repentance. There’s a very interesting chapter (ch 6) on Personal Responsibility and Mental Illness.

The last chapter is probably the longest, and most challenging to our churches. I’m left wondering how equipped we are to help and support the mentally ill in our fellowships. How equipped am I?! I feel incredibly inadequate to the task because we will all have suffering Christians in our midst. One of the testimonies laments how when she had a heart attack there was prayer and support. But when she previously had a schizophrenic episode she was expected to ‘pull herself together’. She did say people were privately praying for her and their prayers were answered and that The Lord heard their prayers. Even so, the challenge is there. Physical illness and mental illness can be viewed very differently and yet both are consequences of our fall in Adam.

I don’t want to give much detail because I want you to read the book and be taken along as he builds up his case. He recommends you read it from the start and not turn to the testimonies at the end first. I would agree with this. You need the previous chapters! I’m not a professional or a church leader but I hope the book has at least made me more aware (of treatments) and sensitive to sufferers (and their families) in our fellowships. I have enjoyed reading it. It’s been an informative, challenging and helpful read. From my limited perspective, I heartily recommend it. Church Ministers and Leaders should read it.

Christians aren’t immune to any illness – including Mental Illness – that can overtake us in a fallen world. What of the Non-Christian that might read the book? They will have all the vicissitudes and pain of this life that will pale into insignificance compared with the awful pain of judgment to come unless they embrace The Saviour. It will be the opposite for the Christian; the suffering for the Christian will end and they will ultimately be ushered into the fullness of the Kingdom of Christ that He purchased at such cost – even with His own Blood.

12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson (Review Article by Dr John Ling)

Dr John Ling has written a ‘review’ article of ’12 Rules for life’ by Jordan Peterson (Follow this link and go to Articles). So this a few comments on John’s ‘review’. However, a review is understating it! John writes:

This article was not what I originally had in mind – I thought it would be a simple, snappy review.  Instead, it rather ran away with me to the tune of 19,000 words!  Also it has turned out to be a rather unconventional review-cum-synopsis-cum-précis with a multitude of quotations.

Whatever we call it, his review is worth reading. Why? Jordan Peterson is everywhere, mostly on YouTube ‘destroying’ someone. So we (Christians) ought to know something about his book. John’s review is so comprehensive I’m not sure I need to read the real thing now. Especially as it’s gone up to £11.99 I might have to wait for it to appear in The Works for a Fiver!

I should restate, that as far as we know, Dr Peterson is not a Christian – not yet anyway. Please pray for him. Please read the ‘review’. It’s a valuable contribution to The Peterson phenomenon.

One more quote from John:

It is reminiscent of the Enlightenment’s doomed attempt at Christian virtue without embracing Christian truth – a wanting the fruits without the roots.’  At base level, Peterson’s stance is one of moral rearmament – turn over a new leaf, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Maybe, just maybe, Peterson will come into a full-orbed understanding of true Christianity.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

For all that, given Common Grace, Peterson is saying many things we Christians can support (read the review). I certainly don’t reject him at all. If I do read the book – and I think I ought to – my ‘insights’ will probably be far less insightful but definitely briefer.

Thank you, John, for the article.

 

 

 

Grieving – Two-Year Milestone

Thirty-Two years we were married and two years ago today my dear Sue passed peacefully into Eternal Glory and into the presence of her Saviour, The Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m thankful over these two years for the support of family and friends, and for the Church where I’m now a member.

The Lord has been very wonderful to me and by His marvellous Grace I raise my Ebenezer and say ‘Hitherto has The Lord helped me’. Doctrine, and by that I mean theology, can often seem dry and aloof. As A. W. Tozer said ‘Doctrine is the highway that leads to God’. My experience, especially over these last two years, is that doctrine is not only alive and vibrant but does indeed lead to God. When I read a Confession of Faith it’s full of God and overflowing with His majesty and grace to sinners. I’ve also found that God brings us through trials in order for us to see that. I thought I knew stuff about God and The Lord Jesus but I realise now I was only scratching the surface.

Agnostics and atheists may well think we are delusional and might even feel a bit sorry for us Christians. The reality is they are the ones that are deluded. Often deluded into worshipping themselves and what could be more delusional than that! While all the time The Lord says ‘look unto me all the ends of the earth and be saved’. What an offer!! Only a fool would turn that down.

Holding someone’s hand while they slip away into eternity isn’t something to be taken lightly. But I knew exactly to where Sue gently slipped away. I don’t know the when or where or means by which I shall enter eternity. But enter it I will. And so will you. Sue entered eternity with a Saviour who is Mighty to Save, as will I, no matter the details. You will enter eternity, but will you die with a Saviour. Will Jesus, the only Saviour for sinners, be your Saviour. O I pray He will be.

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.

Diary of a Grieving Christian – 8 (Six Month Update)

2012-03-31 11.55.12I have written some brief book reviews on bereavement and a few other posts but this is the first ‘Grieving Update’ since 21st December 2015. Has it really been that long? Quite a bit has happened and I got heavily sidetracked into Facebooking.

Today is 6 months since Sue departed for Glory. The ‘literature’ suggests 6 months is significant. Because of that ‘suggestion’ I’ve no idea if it really is significant or whether society has encouraged me to think that way. But either way, I believe it might be appropriate to bring some thoughts to you.

I don’t write with any sense of triumphalism. As a friend said when I told him of Sue’s departure ‘Sue has triumphed, for her the battle is over, but we are still in the battle’. We do triumph for sure, but I’m not triumphalistic. I think even in our Reformed circles there’s a desire to be triumphalistic. We cover it up better. Being scared of dying as a believer doesn’t sell in the heartland. It doesn’t preach so well does it? And the unsaid expected triumphal death irritated me. I’m thankful for a Saviour that understands so well. Sue can now bless the hand that guided and the heart that planned. Dear Sue. It wasn’t easy for her to die and to leave us. We talked one-on-one as you do. She knew it wasn’t easy for me to watch her go. She knew it wasn’t going to be easy for me to live without her either. She really did know me so well.

Six months down the line, it’s unbelievably hard. Harder than I could ever have imagined! Everyone is so different, and those differences give rise to a myriad of variables. So don’t expect your situation to be a ‘carbon copy’ of mine, or of anyone else’s either. I was recently over in Northern Ireland to hear Dr James White speak and we sang a hymn that spoke of raising our Ebenezer. He gave a brief explanation of what raising an Ebenezer meant. I said to myself, ‘O yes, Dr White, I know what an Ebenezer is’. I’ve been raising one regularly for the last year or so.

I’ve learnt a lot. I don’t try and help get God off the hook by using some Biblical hocus pocus. God is Sovereign or He is no God at all. That means He knew Sue would die on that very day. He knew about me too and how I would respond – not always very well in my private moments. More than that, He decreed it.

To understand The Cross and suffering I think in some way you need to understand marriage and what it represents. I often find my emotions are on the edge. I have discovered an empathy with people that have suffered that rarely exists with others that can only sympathise. As a society, we marginalise death. That’s what we are told from many a pulpit anyway. But you know, our churches don’t deal with it very well either. I believe this needs to be addressed.

Three challenges for me.

1. I need to concentrate more on Sue’s gain rather than my pain. At the same time acknowledging that the pain I feel is also from God. And for a good reason. The Sovereignty of God and doctrine isn’t theoretical, it’s immensely practical.

2. I need to realise my all in all comes from God alone. This is hard to learn. In death, there is only one that saves. His name is Jesus Christ. I know the theory. Now I’m having to learn the practice.

3. Will I be able to comfort and help others with the comfort and help I have received. It’s all very well saying this and that, but will I be able to minister to others in similarly straitened circumstances. That’s the question.

Sorry if it came out all garbled. More to follow.

 

Bildad is Alive & Well

Job's_Comforters_Butts_setThis passage stood out from Job chapter 8.

Job 8:1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said:
Job 8:2 “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?
Job 8:3 Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
Job 8:4 If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.
Job 8:5 If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy,
Job 8:6 if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.
Job 8:7 And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.

Then this passage from Zophar:

Job 11:2 “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right?
Job 11:3 Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you?
Job 11:4 For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.’
Job 11:5 But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you,
Job 11:6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves‘.

Bildad and his two friends Zophar & Eliphaz are as much in the dark as poor Job but they make the assumption that it is because Job has sinned that calamity has fallen upon him. Of course, everything we do and all we are falls short of the Glory of God, so in that sense, we have all sinned. But here, there was no particular sin that brought judgement upon the head of Job. On the contrary, we are introduced in the very first verse of the book to Job as a man that ‘… was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil‘. We further read in chapter 1 ‘And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”. That is the testimony of God about His servant Job. Apart from the book of his name Job is only mentioned in three other places in the Bible, twice in Ezekiel and once in James. Here they are.

Eze 14:14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.
Eze 14:20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.

Jas 5:11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness (patience AV, endurance NASB) of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The three verses testify to the character of Job. On fast forwarding to the last chapter, we read the following.

Job 42:7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Job 42:8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

That is pretty serious stuff to have God say his anger burns towards the three friends. Why? Because they have not spoken what is right, unlike Job. Job is told to pray for his friends. Were the three friends included in verse 11 of the final chapter? I think so. The two things they had sought to do when silent are mentioned again at the end – to show sympathy and to comfort. Job still has to live with the death of his children even though blessed with further children. There is restoration but he still needs sympathy and comfort. Maybe Bildad and his friends learnt something as well. And Job had to pray for the ones that had cut him down with words. Something for us to learn.

Job 42:11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

So, returning to the passage in Job 8: 1-7, I thought, ‘I know this man’. Anyone sitting under a graceless and judgmental ministry, that batters instead of builds, that pours judgement instead of the Balm of Gilead will know him too. Bildad (and his friends) is alive and well.

It’s very simple, and simplistic, to think because this, that. Job’s friends were doing the best for him when they wept and sat with him in silence because they could see his suffering was very great. I’m sure Job was grateful that his friends sat with him. Until they opened their mouths that is. Here’s how they are introduced:

Job 2:11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.
Job 2:12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.
Job 2:13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

If only they had kept quiet. Instead, they add to his suffering by getting it all wrong. Job is a righteous man. He has Gospel Righteousness. And by that I mean he had a righteousness that wasn’t his own. It is from another, given, gifted to Job through faith. Even though Job is a righteous man he says some dumb things like we all do and repents in dust and ashes before God.

May we learn to weep with those that weep. I am reminded again of the ministry of Andrew Davies some years ago at the Aberystwyth Conference. He preached four sessions through the book of Job. Now there was a lot of good things said. But a point Andrew made was this; ‘Don’t beat people with the truth!‘ Not only did they beat Job with the truth, they were wrong. Let us not be like that. Let us, so far as we are able, pour in the Balm of Gilead – the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ. Let us not batter our brothers and sisters in Christ with the law but pour in the oil and the wine of forgiveness and mercy, truth and love, the covenant mercy of a gracious God!

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.