My dad went home to be with the Lord on March 17, 2018. He was 62 years old. Dad was a man who loved Jesus deeply and walked with him closely. He was a man genuinely interested in others in a way that was rare and winsome, and his love was both gentle and strong.
In 1997, Dad was diagnosed with Melanoma skin cancer. The cancer was aggressive and quickly recurred two times, the second time as a brain tumor. Treatment involved surgery and radiation during which we begged the Lord to spare Dad’s life. He did. The cancer never returned.
However, the lingering effects of the radiation and brain scarring caused Dad’s brain to decline 15 years later. His speech and body movements slowed down. He also experienced numbness in his limbs as well as vision impairments, along with many other strange neurological symptoms.
Then, on July 4, 2012, Dad was hit by a car as he walked across a street after watching fireworks. He was in a coma for a couple of months, and when he finally woke up, he was never himself again. He couldn’t talk, eat, stand, or write, and it seemed like his personality was gone. I mostly lost Dad in 2012—the process was completed this year.
At Dad’s memorial service, I opened the Scriptures and shared a gospel meditation from Romans 8:18-25 (one of Dad’s favorite passages). I was interacting with this passage in light of what Dad had suffered. The following is an excerpt from what I shared:
In Romans 8:18-25, the Apostle Paul gives a vivid description of life in a broken world. He writes, “creation is eagerly longing…it has been subjected to futility…[it’s] in bondage to decay…[it is] groaning … in the pains of childbirth.” The metaphor of childbirth goes straight to some of the most intense pain that humans can feel. The groans are very earnest. They say, This situation just can’t continue! This must stop!
And then Paul brings this home to our own hearts. He says that “we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption” (vs. 23). Inside, we are crying out with the rest of creation, This is not the way things ought to be! Death and suffering are not what we were created for! We know. And the comforting thing is that God knows, too.
He actually gives voice to our sadness, to our grief, to our longing. More than that, Jesus became a human, entered into our brokenness, and allowed Himself to be broken by our troubles. He was known as a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3a). When His good friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept. The death of Lazarus moved Him powerfully—it grieved Him. Jesus Himself groaned with us. He longs, with us, for all things to be restored.
So I want to encourage us not to avoid grieving over the brokenness that we experience. This is one way that God has changed me. I used to be afraid of grief and sorrow and want to skip ahead to rejoicing in the Lord. But this approach doesn’t glorify God. Our God not only knows our grief, He gives voice to it. All through the Psalms, we hear cries of lament, despair, confusion, bewilderment, and agony, and of course many of these cries point to what Jesus experienced on the cross. He is a fellow sufferer with us, and in Scripture we learn that suffering is actually an inroad to knowing Jesus in a unique way.
As I’ve suffered, I have experienced the sweetness of the Lord’s presence like never before. His presence has become so comforting to me. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, because He is with us (Ps. 23:4). In Isaiah, God comforts us by saying, “When you walk through the waters, I will be with you” (43:2). And then His name is actually “God with us.” There is a design to our suffering. It propels us into His arms. It is here that we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8) and “in His presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). And this joy often comes within grief and suffering, even at the same time.
I experienced this last Sunday [March 18]. I went to church after learning that Dad had died. As we celebrated God’s faithfulness, I felt overwhelmingly sorrowful because I’d lost my dad; yet, at the same time, I felt overwhelmingly thankful for God’s incredible generosity—that He gave me such a phenomenal mom and dad. The intense sorrow and intense joy were side by side in my heart, but they weren’t fighting each other—it was more like they were dancing together. As Christians, we are meant to feel joy and sorrow together. So, as we grieve, we are propelled into the arms of Jesus, and as He grieves with us, we experience the comfort of his presence in ways that are new and satisfying.
I want to encourage you to grieve when you experience brokenness. Weep because this world is not the way it’s meant to be. Desperately long for things to be better. And as you weep, run into the arms of Jesus. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” As you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, find comfort and joy in the presence of Jesus. He will shepherd us through this life, and He will return and make all things new. He will bring us home and we will rejoice in his presence forever.