Monday, April 20, 2015

Honest Grief

           Many times we are dishonest with ourselves when we grieve. Life is complex, and we sometimes need to examine the “why” of loss as much as confront the loss itself. Certainly, we can get too hung up on the why, allow it to eat away at us and never get a satisfactory answer. Yet, sometimes we’re so busy pointing fingers, we forget to look at our responsibility and ourselves and end up prolonging the pain.

            As a caveat to this post, I want to point out (again) that while sin and death were brought into the world through sin, I do not believe that all illness and pain is due to sin. Jesus Himself made that point. It appears that sometimes it is from a person’s personal sin, sometimes it stems from the sin(s) of a parent, and sometimes it is simply for God’s glory. (This post may be difficult for some to read, and I encourage you to hang in there with me.)
            In this post, we’ll return to the account of King David, and the death of his child found in Second Samuel 12:15-23 (NKJV):

            “And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. So the elders of the house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat food with them. Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead. For they said, ‘Indeed, while the child was alive, we spoke to him, and he would not heed our voice. How can we tell him that the child was dead? He may do some harm!’
            “When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Then David said to his servants, ‘Is the child dead?’ 
            “And they said, ‘He is dead.’
            “So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Than he went to his own house; and when requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’
            “And he said, ‘While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘”Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’” But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him but he shall not return to me.’”

            The first fact we need to see and absorb is that “the LORD struck the child…” Struck: as in inflict a disease, plague
            Hmmm, I don’t like that passage very much, do you? It kind of makes me nervous. The longer I look at it, the more facts—uncomfortable ones, to be sure—I need to face, to come to terms with.
            Since the LORD was—and still is—the giver of life, He had every right to do what He did with David’s child. He still does. After all, it’s His world, and the King gets to call the shots. “My castle, my rules,” as Geoffrey Rush says to Colin Firth (Prince Albert “Bertie”) in The King’s Speech. And as Job said, “The LORD giveth, and the LORD taketh away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
            It’s as true today as it was thousands of years ago and at the beginning of time, when God had to be God and boot Adam and Eve out of His garden because they chose to violate the rules of engagement. (I think He really missed walking with them in the cool of the day, though, as had been His habit.)
            We expend energy setting up our own little kingdoms on Earth, with our own rules, and so easily forget that we’re simply overseers tending to the place until the King returns. In the process, we often convince ourselves we have more personal power and clout than we actually do, over good and evil.
            David was in the wrong place at the wrong time, caved to temptation, and committed two atrocities that he would eventually have to “pay” for. And he knows it. Nowhere in the story do we hear him railing against God. To be sure, he does in other times in his life (just read some of his wailing Psalms), but not here. He turns the pointed finger toward himself and does what he knows he should do. Pray.
            Second, God seems to have prepared David’s heart for the loss.
            If we return to Chapter 12, we find God’s prophet Nathan treating David to a little parable, which David answers in self-righteous anger.
            That’s why Nathan bursts out with the accusation that David is actually the evil antagonist in the flash story. Nathan proclaims that while David was sneaking around committing all sorts of vile, calculated, face-saving and self-serving sins, God was watching. And He didn’t like what He saw His son David doing. He couldn’t let it go. He wasn’t about to let David go unpunished for it. To do so would have brought dishonor to His name, His Kingdom, and the nation of Israel. And He would punish David in the full site of David’s kingdom, the nation of Israel.
            How embarrassing. For all to see, and for all to read and learn about for thousands of years. Your dirty laundry hung out for billions of people throughout time.
            At this point, I’m imagining God agonizing over what He has to do. He may have even grieved over it. Discipline is never easy, for the receiver or the giver.
            When David confesses openly in six words: “I have sinned against the LORD,” Nathan reassures David that God has “put away” David’s sin and David’s life will be spared.
            But not the life of his child. Why not take David, the sinner, and leave the innocent child to live? We might never know the answer to this on this side of Heaven, but we can rest assured God had a purpose. And I’m going to guess that David lived out the rest of his life agonizing in his heart about what he did and the heartache it caused so many people. God spares David’s life, but is that more of an agony than being allowed to live? Sometimes, when we are in the thick of our grief, it seems to be so.
            In effect, Nathan tells David that God is concerned about and affected by how we behave as his children because “His reputation is bound up by our conduct,” as Dr. Charles Stanley writes in his Life Principles Bible.
            So, as much as David didn’t like what He heard from Nathan, I think right then and there, his heart has started getting prepared for the worst. Interestingly, God often prepares our hearts for losses, to soften the blow. Many times, though, we ignore those signs.

            Third, knowing the prophesied future doesn’t stop David from pleading with God to change His mind about taking his son. In the King James Version of the Bible, the word plead is rendered as: “besought.” A searching out by any method, specifically in worship or prayer.
            I’m going to guess that David knew God’s heart and His propensity for mercy, love and grace, and was more than willing to take a chance and beg God to change His mind. David didn’t eat and he didn’t sleep, in spite of his servants’ and the elders’ attempts to rouse him up and do so. It is a strong reminder to us that no matter what we’re facing, we need to cast ourselves upon God and His mercy and keep praying with all of our might, until the final answer is rendered.

            Now, I can imagine many of you right at this moment have eyes that have narrowed into angry slits and you might be screaming at your computer monitor, iPhone, or tablet, “I am NOT a murderer like David! I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m a good person; I’ve lived a good life. At least I haven’t killed anyone. I didn’t deserve this!” If you perceive I may have insinuated you are a sinner who deserved your loss. I assure you, I am not.         
            You alone can look back upon your life, asses the facts, and make a judgment on whether your loss was “fair” or not. If you have read my story, you know that I looked back over my life and determined that my loss was a “fair” judgment, even if that is not the reason God took Victoria home. All I have to look back on now is the outcome of twenty years. I can see the span of life from a different perspective, although my view still doesn’t come close to His.
            I am humbly reminded, though, that Jesus did say in Matthew 5:21-22: “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill” (The Message).

            Then we need to ask ourselves: Could David have avoided this devastating outcome if he had been forthcoming about his sin, instead of waiting to be openly punished before confessing it?
            It may be that if David had publicly and immediately—and with a sincere heart—dealt with his sins at the beginning, God may have reduced the severity of the discipline. After all, the purpose of discipline is to get someone to change his behavior and to obey. In this case, God had to send His representative to accuse David outright.

            What can we take away from these truths?
            First, God is God, and He is the author of life. We don’t have to like it, but that’s the fact, and the sooner we come to grips with it the better off we’ll be spiritually, emotionally and physically.
            Second, we need to be honest with ourselves about the “why” of the loss, if we can point to it. If we can, and our behavior played a hand in it, then the sooner we confess, the better. If we can’t answer the question “Why?” it’s best to stop asking the question and move forward. It usually doesn’t do anyone any good to belabor that question if no answers are forthcoming.
            Third, remember that God is loving and merciful, so we should always be ready to expend energy pleading with God, when the situation warrants it. True, there are times when we get our heart’s desire only after we have let go of the desire and turned it over to God, but not giving up is what hope is all about. And love certainly hopes all things!

            Next week we’ll cover points four thru six learned from this event in David’s life.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!