If I manage to survive until January, I will most likely look back at 2007 as one long accumulation of pain. I've had a lot of time to think about pain lately and what it's for, so I want to write about it while I'm still feeling it.
Two specific things have brought much pain into my life recently. One was having my hopes crushed by the only girl I've wanted to marry for the past three years (I already wrote about this one here). The second thing, of course, was the suicide of my little brother last week. Experience had already prepared me for the first, so I sort of knew what to expect. But nothing had ever prepared me for the second. Or so I thought.
It's fun to argue about theology when everything is hunky-dory and you don't really have to think about it for too long. But when pain comes crashing down on you like a six ton elephant you need to know what you believe and why. I can't possible know what all of God's purposes were in these events, nor should I. But there are a few things that I am responsible to know and act accordingly. Here's a list:
1. God is sovereign.
...meaning that nothing has happened, or ever will happen outside of his decreed will. God planned the events of Tuesday, November 27, 2007 before he created the world. God was not sitting around watching ESPN that day only to turn back and look down at Minnesota during a commercial break and say, "Woops! Lost another one. Time to go to plan B." Try as I might, I can't escape this fact without flushing my Bible down the toilet. All the days of our lives are numbered and my brother's life just happened to have a smaller number than most.
2. Suicide is sin, which is against God's will.
God was not pleased by my brother's decision to kill himself. He was grieved by it. He determined it to happen anyway. Therefore, God can bring things to pass things which are sin for the people who do them, but are not sin for God. This is not hard to believe when you realize that the greatest sin ever committed -- the crucifying of Jesus -- was predetermined by God in every single detail. Why is this not sin for God? Because God's purpose is not the same as that of people who commit sin.
3. Good is not the minimization of pain but the magnification of Christ.
If Romans 8:28 said, "All things work together for the minimization of earthly pain," I would have had to toss my Bible out the window a long time ago. This is pain. I know what it is and I can feel it. I can almost taste it.
4. God only does good to those who are in Christ.
To all those who are in Christ and have been affected by Ben's death, God has planned this for their good -- not the minimization of their pain but the enlarging of their capacity to magnify Christ. I don't know what all of this will include, but I do know that when I am dead I will be able to look back on my life and see that I was better able to magnify Christ than I would have been if all the pain of 2007 had been spared.
5. Hope in Christ is the only hope that does not disappoint.
Good things are taken away from us sometimes so that we may prove where our hope lies. We dishonor God if we only trust him for the good things he gives us. If we lose our job, if we lose our friends, if we lose our spouse, if we lose our brother, if we lose our 401k, if we lose our legs, or if we lose our health, it is an opportunity to prove that our hope is not in them, it is in Christ. Losing any of these other things will not prevent us from lasting joy.
So, to recap, my main goal these past few days has been to not dishonor God. Here's a list of potential ways to dishonor God at a time like this:
- I can dishonor God by acting as if God is not sovereign over the events of my life, even the painful ones.
- I can dishonor God by acting as though I am only trusting in God for his gifts rather than for himself.
- I can dishonor God by believing that the "good" spoken of in Romans 8:28 refers to the minimization of pain rather than the magnification of Christ.
- I can dishonor God by thinking that I deserve better.
- I can dishonor God by taking advantage of other people's pity.
- I can dishonor God by questioning his judgment.
- I can dishonor God by acting as though losing anything other than Christ could result in the loss of my eternal joy.
- I can dishonor God by seeking comfort in sappy country songs rather than in God.
- I can dishonor God by grieving like an unbeliever (i.e. without hope).
- I can dishonor God by refusing to grieve at all.
I have failed in most of these. But thankfully, I have not failed as much as I could have had I not been made aware of who God is. At a time like this, I take no comfort in the god of open theism or wishy-washy American evanjellyfishism who sits around observing the events of our daily lives and just really hoping that we get it right. I take no comfort in a god who is constantly playing catch-up with his creation and scrambling to salvage whatever tragedies come up and use them for some kind of good. No, I only take comfort in the God who is supreme over every event of our lives and has clearly revealed to us what his plan and purpose is, and has graciously allowed us to partake in his purpose to glorify himself forever.