Weekly Insights about the Quarterly Lessons from the 1888 Message Study Committee.
Thursday, May 30, 2019
TIMES OF LOSS
"TIMES OF LOSS"
This week's lesson is going to usher us into a subject that no one likes. Although loss is the most ubiquitous experience we all face, it is one which most never acknowledge for what it's worth. The lesson this week invites us to look at various nuances of loss ranging from the loss of life, health, trust, and freedom. As I'm writing this, one family member has just been told they have cancer. As you are reading this, you know people who are going through health challenges, fractured relationships, and pain so deep that they dare not share it in a church. I volunteered to write on this subject because in 1994, my wife and I were enrolled in the graduate course of loss (as one author has described it). If you'd like to read more about our personal journey in reconciling loss and faith through it all, we welcome you to consider our book Undeniable: An Epic Journey Through Pain.
Although our loss will be unique to us in the realm of details, we do have something to share that crosses into each of these categories. Just as each of us is unique in our worship and our experience, we also will deal with loss in individualistic ways. Loss is a liminal moment that either brings clarity or disconnection. I am convinced that God wants to be present and involved in each person's experience with loss so that it will become a transformative process. For this week's reflections, let me share with you just one example of how God spoke to us powerfully in the midst of unexplainable pain.
I grew up learning the truths of the Bible, with all of the stories and end time theology as part of my life. I even remember one time going door to door to share all of my biblical knowledge, hoping to find someone who had yet to find the truth of Sabbath rest. Although, in reality, it would be years before I realized that I didn't understand it well myself. If you'd like to be challenged about the whole subject of Sabbath from a non-Adventist perspective, consider the book Subversive Sabbath by A.J. Swaboda. We might not agree with all that he says, but he is asking powerful and appropriate questions that we should consider. Sometimes it is possible to argue about a day and miss the point. But I digress. Suffice it to say, I have grown up with the truths that we hold dear. Because of that, I was regularly tormented by one question: How could Jesus walk the earth without sin? How could he live the perfect life?
I realize there may be many answers in each of your minds, but for me, I finally came to a conclusion. I simply thought that He had the most incredible mind and had every possible sin categorized so that He could not be deceived. I pictured Jesus with a huge mental compendium of all possible variations of sin. Part of that came from the Bible verse where we are told that David hid the law of God in his heart so that he might not sin against God. I took that thought and ran with it a little bit further. So, the only way that I could reconcile the perfection of Jesus was to imagine His ability to identify sin no matter how He was confronted with it. For example, a beautiful woman would walk in front of Him and He would identify it as lust number 14,648. Or, when the devil tempted Him in the wilderness, He recognized self-protection number 127. Or, self-centeredness number 3. Whatever temptation came His way, I pictured His incredible knowledge to be the key in keeping Him from being deceived. That was my working hypothesis. And therefore, the answer was to seek knowledge, and I did. Knowledge and performance became my focus. I don't want to say it became my god, but if I am honest, idolatry was involved. Then my kids died.
My wife and I were doing all the right things. I knew the knowledge. I was serving God full time. And then our two precious children died in a horrendous car accident on the Sabbath day after preaching. Everything that I thought I knew was challenged. As I mentioned before, in this short essay, there is no way to capture it all, but you are welcome to read our book for a longer version of the journey.
Six days after the accident, my wife had been miraculously spared and we had the chance to go and say goodbye to our babies. My wife was in a wheelchair, her left arm in a sling. For reasons we did not understand, she had cheated brain damage, and her compromised lungs were beginning to get their function back. I gently pushed her into the room of the funeral home in order to have a few moments alone and to try to say goodbye. As we attempted to hold our children, filled with sobbing false starts of sentences, we came face to face with the horrendous reality of death. Our children were stiff, their faces unresponsive, limp to our hugs. Words cannot fully explain what happened that evening. Of course, we had our grief counselor and supportive pastor, Frank Bacchus, there to help walk us through the living nightmare, and we are so grateful. Yet, there was no way to make that a positive experience. That Sabbath was destroyed with a Friday night viewing, and a Sabbath afternoon funeral at our church. We would never see that church again in the same way. Others might see a pulpit. Our eyes would always see a casket.
Little did I know, and it was a number of months before the realities could be considered, but on that Friday night, saying goodbye, I began to have a revelation, an answer to that burning question I shared before. As we held our children, attempting to say goodbye, we saw the makeup masking the colors of death and the hats trying to cover the scar of the autopsy. And something else happened. The smell of the chemicals involved in preparing a body for burial began to go deeply into the very core of my being. With each passing moment in that room, the smell became a visceral reminder of death. I HATE that smell. Months later when our minds began to go through events and to experience God's grace amidst the loss, I remembered that night.
Gradually, I began to realize there may be another answer. Instead of Jesus having a huge compendium of sin (although I do acknowledge He probably did) I began to think it was something deeper. Could it be that as Jesus walked the earth, when temptation was put before Him to lead Him to sin, it would be as alluring as someone trying to invite me to a bottle of perfume of the smell that I experienced as we said goodbye to Caleb and Abigail? Could it be that Jesus simply smelled death? And death is not a temptation. Especially when He was, is, and came to bring life. As I reflected in my own life, it wouldn't matter what you tried to hide the smell in or make it look good, the moment I would catch a whiff of that smell, I would be repulsed with all that I am. I began to see that that is probably one part of how Jesus walked this earth, trusting His Father, remaining connected with life, because He was life. Which leads me to the conclusion that unless we help our people, and specifically our young people, to actually find the life, there is no way we can make enough rules, or give them enough knowledge to protect them from all the permutations of sin (but that could be another article).
Obviously, our experience of loss took us to a place of deep brokenness and God transformed us in that dark place. We learned incredible lessons of his undying faithfulness, more than I can share here. We have found that loss brings a clarity of what is important like nothing else. I am convinced that God, in His grace, can work through our times of loss, when we are stripped of the other voices and noise of this world so that we can hear His still small voice inviting us to a place of wholeness. Just as Ellen White references in Ministry of Healing, the little caged bird which cannot learn the song its master wants it to sing, in the noise and bustle of life, so it is covered. In the darkness it learns its one song and then it can sing it for the rest of its life. Grief forces a silence on the soul, and God is greater than our grief and He is able to use that silence to speak life. As this week's lesson brings out a number of powerful verses to give encouragement as we walk the journey of grief and loss, there is one more amazing reality as Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. God in His grace and mercy is able to turn all things (Romans 8:28) in such a way that He also empowers us to minister to a broken and hurting world around us. My wife and I can say, like Joseph did years ago, you meant it for evil, but God has turned it for good. When we allow God to work in the darkness, when we let His love shine, and trust His plan, relying on His power, He is able to make our times of loss some of the most powerful and important in our lives. I hope you will get a glimpse of that this week as you study.