Last Tuesday morning, my precious friend Julie, unexpectedly lost her first born 17 year old daughter, Ashley. Ashley went to bed the night before, healthy, and passed away in her sleep. No apparent medical reason for her death, no sense of why, no time to say goodbye…I struggled to find hope, as my spirit and body grieved this inconceivable loss, for my friend, and for all of us left here with so many unanswered questions. These words flowed from a sincere and honest grief, a mourning heart, and a desire to know God through it all. I pray these words will bring life, healing, and hope to the places of death, sickness, and despair. With Jesus, joy is always set before us.
What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises. What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, what joy for those who trust in you. From Psalm 84
Jesus loves Ashley more than anyone on this earth ever could… He died for her, so that her heavenly father can have her in His keeping now. She is safe in his very real arms…. She has no need, no fear, no tears, no hunger, no thirst. She is fully restored. I rest assured that her entire being is fully cared for. Her suffering is no more, because she is whole, complete, and made perfect in the presence of Jesus, and her Abba father.
So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8
Her homecoming has all of heaven rejoicing. Her name was written on heaven’s walls before the creation of man, before she even drew her first breath outside of Julie’s womb. And so it is with every saint who has lived to proclaim that Jesus is Lord of All, the perfect son of God, the way the truth and the life.
I know my God is faithful, I know that He is good. I trust He will meet Julie in that place, the darkest place a mother could ever be… he has gone before her, he was and is waiting for her there now and in every moment that she still has left on earth. He loves her more than any other. He knows her more intimately than any other. He feels the depth of her painful sorrow more than any other. And He will meet her there. He will keep her by his perfect love. As he always has and always will… For her, and also for each one of us, his dearly loved children. He is faithful and he is true. AND HE IS GOOD.
Now, I know all of these things, I truly do believe these words, but in the days following Ashley’s passing, the Holy Spirit gently revealed a disparity of what I claimed to believe and what I actually did believe. As I was praying and seeking God about what I could do and say to help comfort those around me, and I heard God’s still small voice say, Tell them that I am good. Those words penetrated to my very soul, they seemed to zero in and expose my doubt, like an arrow straight to the heart. Honestly, in that moment, I felt like it was cruel to say that God is good, when such a bad thing had happened… It shook my faith to the core. I had to ask myself, If I cannot claim that God is good in this circumstance, then do I really believe that God is good? I began to wrestle, pray, and read the word of God, and what flowed from me, washed over me like saving grace, and I was renewed. This is what the Holy Spirit revealed:
Suffering, pain, loss… sets our feet on a path, it leads us to the raw and honest place where stripped of what we once held sacred, we can honestly and earnestly press into the Christ we profess we know. We can bang our fists on heaven’s door and demand to understand these embittered tears that well up in anguish and flow from the deepest of depths. We cry out a despairing onslaught of whys, what ifs, and how can this be… we tremble and ask…are you a cruel God? Have you forsaken us?
Deep cries out to deep… Psalm 42:7
In the anguish of the unknowing, in the pressing in to make some sort of sense of this painful mystery…a new thing has already begun. We press in to see more clearly, this image of an invisible God. We struggle to grasp some sort of tangible evidence, that all this has meaning, that life has purpose… that pain has purpose…that we have purpose… it drives us to the basic, yet most perplexing questions…Who are you God? Are you really a good God? If so, then why are we suffering?
Our honest painful questioning can lead us to something glorious… If we follow the thread, hope will unravel itself slowly and intentionally, and instead of revealing the answers, Jesus Christ will reveal himself. The transformative power of a Christian’s authentic suffering is not in the answers it brings, but in whose presence it reveals, our savior, Jesus Christ.
This is what is means to share in Jesus’ suffering, what it truly means to share soul space with His living presence while we are still bound to this earth. Even in the midst of our most profound grief, this permission and call to bring our pain under the shadow of the cross, to know and be known by this Man of sorrows, our sorrows, is one of the greatest joys we can ever experience this side of eternity.
To have hope in the darkest hours, to claim victory when we are at our absolute weakest, to know that our God is good even after our entire world has been shaken, that is what reveals the eternally unshakable -the very Spirit of the Living God dwelling within us!
We can proclaim that God is good, faithful, and true. In. Every. Circumstance. Because He is in every circumstance. He is all powerful and he is coming to do a good thing. He carries with him his reward- his presence and power, his own Holy Spirit. The same eternal spirit who spoke light into darkness before time began, the same spirit who raised Jesus from the grave, who offers up to God prayers on our behalf. The Holy Spirit is here to be our advocate, our defender, our strength, our counsellor, our rock, and our redeemer. Because of Jesus, we can boldly walk into the presence of the LORD, the most Holy of places, with no fear of condemnation. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
We can ask the scary questions, and even in our doubt, seek him and know that we will find him there. Waiting to renew, redeem, and transform. Every time. He does not grow weary. He does not grow faint. This is our daily bread, this is the living water Jesus talked about, this is what our dying world so desperately needs! Stand up dear children of the King, for now is the time. Don’t back down from our Savior’s invitation to share in his inheritance of glory! The glory that awaits will erase all earthly suffering, pain, and loss. Jesus himself will wipe the tears from our eyes. Don’t lose hope, let us run this race together with eyes fixed, for our reward is this:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Revelation 21:3-5
He is breathing life into dry bones to rise up and sing praises again! Let’s declare praises to the Holy One, the Unchanging One, the Alpha and Omega, the only one to whom all praise is due! Through him death has lost it’s sting. Through him all will be made right at exactly the right time. Through him we have the power to overcome. Through him we know love and can love, however long we draw breath on earth. Through him we have the gift of heaven, an eternity in his presence. This is our HOPE.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23
Now is the time to stand strong in the Word. Together, Hand in hand. It is Jesus himself who has anointed us to bear this message to the lost, the blind, the weary, the brokenhearted and the captive. (Isaiah 61) Take a new grip with me!
So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai….
No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. You have come to Jesus who mediates the new covenant between God and people… Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire. (From Hebrews 12)