A book arrived in the mail last week, unsolicited by me. I opened it distractedly and thumbed through the materials that came with it. After about a minute of reading, I started sobbing uncontrollably as I stood at my kitchen counter. I am not an emotional woman easily given to tears, but I could hear God already speaking to me, meeting me in a place of deep personal struggle, dealing with questions that were so hard to understand that I kept them at bay as best I could. Over the last 2 years, I have walked with several friends through very dark circumstances. Not your daughter is pregnant out of wedlock dark. Not you lost your job kind of dark–though I’ve seen these too, and those are definitely dark places, and I DO NOT minimize that pain. But I have 3 friends who have walked through things worse than that–among them, the murder of my aunt. I remember sitting across the living room from one of my friends in the midst of an unspeakable crisis and praying to myself as I sat with her, “God I know You are good and I know You are sovereign. But I have no idea how to reconcile that with what I am witnessing now.” As I read the foreword and introduction to the book I received in the mail, I realized I was talking with someone who had been there before me and knew exactly what I couldn’t reconcile on my own.
The book is Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie. Nancy lost both her infant daughter and son to the same metabolic disease a few years apart. In the introduction, she remembered her pastor asking at the graveside service for her infant daughter, “This is the place where we ask, ‘Is the gospel really true?'” And that is the question I asked too as I sat across from my friend in her living room–is the gospel really true? I believe it is, Lord, but I realize I have holes in my understanding that are exposed by this tragedy. I asked it again at my aunt’s funeral. And I’ve asked it repeatedly as I walked with yet another friend through betrayal and abandonment. There are times where the only thing that sustains me is that, like the disciples in John 6, I have no where else to go.
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67″You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
I understand that response. Sometimes, the only thing that seems to hold me is that I don’t have anywhere else to go if I did leave the faith. Nancy Guthrie meets us in that place and points us to Jesus over and over as the answer to those unanswerable questions. She asks the really hard questions and doesn’t skirt around any of them. She reminded me that Jesus does indeed meet us in the worst of circumstances with real answers–not trite, polite sayings that would fit on a motivational calendar but real, HARD, deep truths that have the power to cut through the most awful scenario you could imagine and meet you right there with authentic, genuine hope.
Nancy shared this piece of her story that I found especially poignant.
Our church family had walked with us through some difficult days, joining with us in making the most of Hope’s brief life as they took her into their arms and into their hearts, and sharing the deep sorrow we felt in the emptiness following her death. So when we stood up to tell them that I was pregnant again despite the surgical steps we had taken to prevent another pregnancy, they could not hold back their joy. They burst out in applause before we could get it all out. But there was more to get out. After the applause began to die down, David added, “And this child will have the same fatal syndrome his sister, Hope, had.”
There was an audible expression of dismay. This was not the happy ending everyone felt would have been the appropriate fit for our story, certainly not the one they felt would make following God look good.
(A) friend in class told us that she wept that morning and into the next day. It didn’t seem right to her. And it didn’t fit her idea of the way we can expect our good God to work in the lives of believers. It seemed to her that the fitting end to the story would be that God would bless us with a healthy child, showing the watching world that he makes up for the losses he allows into our lives.
And she wasn’t the only one.
How many of us are right there with her church friends? Surely a good God would not do THAT. Right?! And then the reality sets in–that’s exactly what He did. Well, maybe their faith wasn’t enough. Or maybe I need to reevaluate my belief in the sovereignty of God. Instead, Nancy examines Jesus–His own life’s example and His teachings to His disciples. And we realize that He set them all up for earthly lives and deaths that were about as bad as we could imagine. And He was good to them.
Many of us are not ready to hear this truth. You can not handle the truth that there is a better good than you have ever imagined but that the path to it is excruciating. But others of you are there. You know the pain well and you ask yourself, “Surely the gospel matters in this pain. Surely something about Who God is can meet me in this and transform it from the bitter place I currently live.” I’m not recommending that you let Nancy Guthrie be your guide. I am recommending that you look to the Man of Sorrows Himself–this one who is well acquainted with grief and familiar with suffering. If you are ready to let Him be your guide, then Nancy’s book is a great starting place.
Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;