It has been almost three years now since my Heavenly Father took my Stephen home. Most of what happened during that time in our history we wrote down and put out on Steve's memorial website. Greg did most of the writing, and that was his therapy. But many things did not get put into print. I was like Mary who "pondered these things in her heart." When my friends found out that I was keeping a diary they would always say, "I wish I could read it!" So this is a gift to all the friends who stood by us in those dark days. Those precious people were used of God to comfort and encourage us. Now is the time for me to share more of our story, but not all. I am still pondering.
About two or three weeks before Stephen's death, things began to happen in the spiritual realm which would later be pieces of a great puzzle. Pieces which when put together would present a marvelous and mysterious picture of God's sovereign workings in Stephen's life and in our own hearts. A friend once commented that these things were like a window of heaven being opened so that we could catch a glimpse of God's hand, His plan, and His glory. So dear friend read, be amazed, and affirm once again-- a mighty fortress is our God!
About two weeks before Stephen's appointment Greg had a dream:It was the most horrible, gut-wrenching dream I ever had. In the darkness of the night I looked down the hall towards Stephen's bedroom. His door was open. Stephen never slept with his door open. As I looked inside his bed was made. It was made because he wasn't there; he wasn't in it; he was dead!
I awakened with a start. Then I sat on the edge of my bed for a minute to catch my breath. Quickly I walked down the hall to Stephen's room. To my relief I found the door closed and locked. This surely meant that Stephen was inside asleep, and his faithful dog, Blaze, was beside him on the floor.
There was no way I could go back to sleep. As I sat on the couch I prayed for Stephen's safety. I prayed that God would surround him with his angels and keep him from harm. But then a question went through my mind, "What if it really is time for Stephen to leave this world." Although I cringed at the thought of it, I prayed for Stephen's soul. I prayed that same prayer that I had prayed since Stephen was conceived: I prayed that he would love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that when the time really did come for him to die, that he would be ready.
After I prayed I calmed down and either went back to bed or went to my computer and started working. Either way, within just a few hours I completely forgot about the dream.
About three weeks before Stephen's appointment, Jessica had a dream. Here is the letter she wrote to us:Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wright,
Greetings in the name of our precious Savior! How are you doing? This letter should have been written awhile ago but I guess I needed time to sort out my thoughts and feelings.
I am the girl who had the dream about Steve three weeks before he died. Here is my dream in detail: I saw a car with people singing "It is well with my soul," which is one of my favorite songs. I then saw a hospital room, but I could not see how Steve was hurt. The whole room was dark except for his bed and I vaguely heard that hymn again, and then I saw Steve light up with what I could tell was the love and holiness of God and he was gone in an instant. (His spirit) I then heard what sounded like thousand upon thousands of voices of the angels singing "It is well with my soul".
Now, I am not prone to visions, or things out of the ordinary, so I hope you know I would never make this up. The Lord used Steve's death to do a work in me and convict me on many things. I felt very guilty that maybe I could have done something. Those thoughts still tend to haunt me, but I try to pray and take reassurance in the fact that God is in control and ordained everything in his perfect timing and plan. Jesus could have escaped the cross and hid from his enemies, He was Jesus, after all, but he didn't because he followed the will of His Father. Anyway, I did not know Stephen very well, so it was odd that I dreamed about him. I didn't mention it to anyone. When our family got the call that Steve was in the hospital and in a coma, I was in total shock because I knew (partly because of my dream) that Steve would not live.
Over the weekend I cried many times, not just for what Stephen was going to miss in life, but for what you (as his parents) were going to miss. However, I realize now that I approached it in the wrong way. My heart cries out for what you must be going through, but I know that Steve did not miss out on anything. Rather, it is us who are "missing out." We are unable to see God's glory and be in his holy presence, as Steve gets to be now, which is the greatest place to be. I believe Steve's death was a part of God's plan. I have been praying for the youth at Grace Baptist for several years now. My exact words to the Lord was that He would do whatever it took to make those He's chosen to be His children and make them realize how much they need a Savior, THE Savior. I believe that Steve's death was as much of worth and value as if he had been a martyr, and maybe this is what it is going to take. I was so encouraged at the funeral and how evangelistic it was. And I was even more so at the song "It is well with my soul." I would like to say that you guys are incredible role models to me, for I see God's love and grace in you, and your faith has deeply encouraged me to grow in mine. I saw Steve many times at Church, game night, Samaritan's Purse (shoeboxes) and many other events and it is plain to see he was well-raised by two of the greatest parents ever. You are in my thoughts and prayers always and if you ever need anything please let me know.
Forgive me for writing such a long letter.
Love in Christ, Jessica
About two weeks before Stephen's appointment:Greg's mother, Frankye, woke up at 3 a.m. and was greatly impressed to pray for us. She thought about asking us if anything was wrong, but she didn't. She just knew she needed to pray for Greg and me. Also, around this same time, Greg's dad dreamt that someone in the Wright family died.
About two months before Stephen's appointment, my sister-in-law bought the dress I would wear to the funeral. Here is that story:Ken and Nancy had planned a trip to New York City where Ken had some business to attend to. They planned to see some sights and go to some Broadway plays. Nancy bought some new clothes for the occasion including a beautiful black dress that she could wear to a play. On their flight to New York, Nancy sat next to a woman who kept crying and crying. She told Nancy that her sister-in-law had died giving birth to a baby. The woman was flying to New York for the funeral and perhaps to bring home the newborn to raise since her brother worked long hours. She said she had to leave home in such a hurry that she didn't even have time to pack very much or bring extra clothes. Nancy expressed her concern about the woman not having anything to wear to the funeral, but the woman just said she would figure out something when she got there. Nancy realized that the black dress in her suitcase would probably fit the woman. She thought about giving her the dress but reasoned her way out of it. Nancy had several opportunities to give the woman the dress including at the baggage claim area. Later, Nancy felt miserable about not helping out the stranger. Then when Ken and Nancy were getting ready to go to a Broadway play, she couldn't put the dress on. When Ken asked her why she wasn't wearing the black dress to the play, Nancy started to cry and blurted out, "That's not my dress! I was suppose to give it to the woman on the plane!" Well, two months later when Steve died and I didn't have a dress to wear to the funeral, Nancy had one to lend me. It was hanging in her closet, brand new, with the tags still on it, and just my size. The Lord is my Provider!
February 8, 2001, at 4:10 PM at the Hartsville Park, Stephen had an appointment:On February 8, 2001, Stephen went home to be with the Lord. A few days later, on the day of the funeral, the Banks family drove to the park. Upon seeing the pile of dirt at the park where Stephen's accident happened, Jeremy, his good biking buddy, just said these words: "This was no accident."
Loosing my only child was like living my worst nightmare. There are physical symptoms with grief. Feeling as if I had been shot with an arrow through the heart, I wondered why my heart went on beating. I experienced intense thirst, fatigue, sadness, and anxiety. I didn't sleep for five days, and after that, only with a mild sedative. A heavy weight, (the weight of grief) on my chest caused shallow breathing for about eight weeks. There was the inability to concentrate or even do simple tasks. I tell you this so you will know how the grieving person feels. Yes, the grieving person really does need meals brought, cleaning done, errands run. I couldn't drive, cook or shop for quite some time. Thanks to our supportive friends we didn't starve.
Then came the spiritual attacks from the enemy, attacks upon the mind, body and spirit, and attacks upon our marriage. I have declared many times that without God as my refuge and my support, I would not be here today. Only with the prayer support of many saints did we survive.
God really did come to my aid. That night in the car, going home from Vanderbilt, I felt myself sinking into the pit of despair. Then, even when I could not reach out to God, He was reaching out for me. His hand was upon me keeping me from falling. I have an understanding now of Psalm 94:17-19, for I have lived it:
Unless the Lord had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in silence.
If I say, "My foot slips,"
Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up.
In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul. (NKJV)
Also, in the car that same night the Lord brought Job 1:21 to my mind. I know it was the Lord because my mind was numb. I wasn't thinking about verses. This verse says, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." (NIV)
Then the next day, Friday, I was reading my Bible and I asked the Lord if He would give me a verse I could claim as mine in the midst of my great trial. The Lord gave me Psalm 89:1-2. It is not a verse about grief or comfort but about praise for our God. In the following letter I tried to explain to my parents the great mercy God had shown to me by asking me to praise Him. How could I be angry with God? I was called to praise Him.
Dear Mom and Dad,
We have been through a fiery trial. Losing Stephen has been very hard. You asked me, "How are you making it through this? Aren't you envious or angry or bitter?" By God's grace I am "making it," and I am not envious or angry or bitter. I would like to tell you some of what God has done for me and in me through this tragedy. It is a great mystery " ... that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28, NIV)
God started his "work" the very night that Stephen died. As we were on our way back home from Vanderbilt in the dark, overcome by grief, the words from Job 1:21 came to my mind: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (NASB) In my darkest hour God met me there in that car. Because I understood the character of God, I could bless and not curse His name.
That night and over the next several days friends gave me scripture verses to hold on to, and they were all good. But the Friday night after Stephen's death, as I sat reading my Bible, I asked God if he would give me my own verse on which to cling. The scripture God gave to me for comfort and strength was Psalm 89: 1-2. It says:
I will sing of the Lord's great love forever;
With my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
That you established your faithfulness in heaven itself. (NIV)
I was so happy that in the midst of my great trial my heart could still praise Him! This was only one way God showed his mercy to me. In the next few days I began to sense that God was answering many prayers for me. In the past, as I realized how inadequate my love for people was, I would often ask God to let me love others the way He loves them. The night Stephen died God dropped a bombshell full of love into my heart. In the following weeks I found that I was loving people with this new love. But my heart could not contain it, and my heart began to break for these people. The Lord then showed me that my puny heart cannot possibly love others the way He loves them. How true are the hymn writer's words: " O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast unmeasured, boundless, free! Rolling as a mighty ocean, in its fullness over me."
God's love for me and for you is so great that we cannot possibly comprehend it all. But when we grasp God's love and power in our lives, that knowledge is what carries us through dark days. Cling to God and His Word and you will find Him faithful. Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (NIV)
In His Abounding Love,
This "love in my heart" thing is more difficult to explain, so I will just let you read my account of what happened exactly as I recorded it.
Three things happened on February the 8th, 2001. My son, Stephen, went home to be with the Lord, a LifeFlight nurse named J. ran head-long into the Kingdom of God, and the Lord dropped a bombshell full of love into my heart.
For years I have prayed this prayer: "Lord, let me love others the way you love them." I prayed this because I knew that my love for others was so inadequate, so selfish. Now the Lord has answered my prayer, and the love in my heart is more than I can bear. The Lord has shown me that we cannot possibly love His Loved Ones with the same love that He has for them. Our puny hearts would burst. We cannot even begin to comprehend the love of God toward us-- it is so great.
Because I now understand His great love, I can now comprehend His disappointment and hurt when we disobey Him or do not love Him as we ought.
I have felt great love and great hurt, and both are more than I can bear. We must leave our burdens and those we love completely in His care. Our love remains inadequate. His love is forever great.
This love for others which God gave me compelled me to reach out to the LifeFlight nurses who were with Steve and who tried to save his life. I was nervous about contacting them, and Greg couldn't understand my actions, but I felt that I must meet with them. After speaking with them by phone a couple of times, we met together at the LifeFlight offices at Vanderbilt exactly two weeks after Steve's death. I brought each of them a small gift, a picture of Steve, and the letter below. My intention was to assure them of God's sovereign work in our lives and of our gratitude to them for their roll in Steve's life on that fateful night. All three of us were able to share from our hearts; we wept and embraced. It was a very special and rare encounter. I also met briefly with the ER social worker who was with us when Steve died. When God's love is the driving force, remarkable things can happen.
Dear W. and J.,
I want to let you both know that we appreciate beyond words all that you tried to do for Stephen. I have to express my feelings and thoughts to you, because you were the last ones to hold my child, and you did all you could to save his life. Yet, I want you to know that his life was not in your hands but in God's. You know that you worked very hard to keep life in his body. You yourselves knew what a tragic event this was, and you worked with concern for him and for us. You know all the details about what physically went on. But I want you to know ALL that happened that evening.
Around 4:00 p.m. Stephen's dad, who had worked at home that day, February 8th, took Stephen to the park so he could ride his BMX bike, just as he had on many occasions. When they got out of the car Steve said, "What a great day! Not only do I get to go to the park, but I get to be with my friends, too!" Four other boys were there with their bikes, and they began riding. Greg started off for the walking trail but looked back to make sure they were all getting along. He walked a little further and looked back again. Everything looked fine. The third time he looked back he heard a boy say, "I'll run for help!" Greg saw Steve lying on the ground and ran back to him. According to Greg, there were already two buckets of blood on the ground, and Steve was unconscious and having trouble breathing. The ambulance came and took him to Trousdale Medical Center. There and on the Life Flight helicopter the battle was fought to save him.
Later we heard an eyewitness account of the accident from one of the boys who saw it happen. They had all been jumping over a pile of dirt on their bikes. The boy saw Steve go up in the air off the pile of dirt. Then everything else he saw was in slow motion. As Steve hovered for a second up in the air, there were angels surrounding him. As Steve crashed to the ground he made no effort to break his fall. The boy said that this was a very strange thing, because anyone would naturally put their arms out to try to protect himself. Steve also knew how to toss his bike away and roll away from it when he saw a crash looming. But that time he didn't. That time God had a plan to take Steve home, and nothing could have changed it.
W. and J., we appreciate so much the love and care you gave Stephen and us. To me you are like angels with flesh. If you would like to stay in touch my number is -------- and e-mail ------ .
I will be praying for you as the Lord brings you to my mind because I know that your job is not without risks.
With love and prayers,
Greg and I felt so blessed that God would allow one of the boys at the scene to see the angels who were with Steve. God sent us comfort and assurance through the boy's testimony. Our gracious and loving Heavenly Father also gave us added assurance that Steve was in heaven through a vision our friend, Pete, had at approximately the same time that Steve died.No doubt, the word home carried a lot of meaning for Stephen. On the evening of February 8, 2001, after Steve's bicycle accident, one of our deacons was driving in his car and praying fervently for him. At that point all Pete knew was that Steve was seriously injured. Then an amazing thing happened. Suddenly he felt release from the burden to pray for Steve, and much to his surprise he looked up and saw the image of Steve's face in his windshield. Steve had the happiest smile he had ever seen. Then Steve said two words: "I'm home." As soon as he said this he disappeared. Pete looked at his watch. Later he would be able to verify that this event had occurred shortly after Steve had died.
The Lord has allowed me to dream about Stephen, and each time, I know that the dream is a gift and a way of Stephen sending me his greetings. I was a little disappointed at first when I was not dreaming about Stephen at all. And then the dreams came, but only on holidays. Most of the time Greg could suggest to me what the dream might mean, the messages were so clear. The first one came on our wedding anniversary, four months after Steve's death. In the dream, Steve and I clearly said good-bye to each other, and he was so happy. On another occasion I had a beautiful dream about Steve just after Christmas. Greg said, "That was Steve's Christmas card to you."
I have had several other dreams about Steve always on or near a holiday. But close to the day of what would have been Steve's 14th birthday, this dream was more like a visitation. I recorded my experience:
Sometime close to Steve's birth date (2001) I had another dream. Actually I don't know if this was a dream or real. I was asleep on my right side. Then in a state of semi-consciousness, I rolled to my back and found someone was on the other side of me peering over me. His face (Stephen or an angel) was quite close to mine. I felt of the face, then I felt whoever it was crawl off the end of my bed by my feet. Then I knew I was awake, and all of this experience seemed quite real.
At other times I have been comforted by God's presence, and in very special ways He has shown His love for me. One such occasion was on the first Mother's Day after loosing Steve:Many people said they were praying for me around Mother's Day. One friend in Tallahassee even fasted for me on Mother's Day! I thought I would want to be out of town on that day. I didn't know if I could face it, but I decided to stay and be at church. I invited my parents up for that weekend so I could minister to my mom and help her have a good mother's day. We took my parents out to eat at Cracker Barrel on Saturday evening. Cindy, Stan, Ken, and Nancy also came. Ken had just returned that morning from South Africa. When our food arrived, Ken asked the blessing. While he prayed I felt the warm embrace of God and what felt like a soft kiss on the cheek! God is kind. God is love. He is a personal God who cares for His children. His mercy is everlasting!
Sometimes it seems as if God gives us special signs just to let us know He loves us. Sometimes it seems like a "hello" from Steve. In the story A Dog, A Frog, and an Unseen Visitor, I wrote about how God brought comfort to Greg one day in the form of a little frog. On another occasion God used something as simple as hockey sticks to bring comfort to my heart.
November 18, 2002:Today I had to take the truck into Lebanon for a repair. While I waited I took a walk in a neighborhood where Steve and I had frequently walked when we lived in Lebanon. I walked for quite a while and many memories flooded my mind. Then as I was returning, walking back through the neighborhood, I looked down at the grass. In one yard there were three hockey sticks laid neatly on top of each other close to the sidewalk. They seemed to be a sign set out just for me. No other toys were in that yard or any other yard in the neighborhood. I didn't get very emotional about it but simply pondered the idea. What a comfort to know that I am on God's mind. What a comfort to know that Stephen's soul is safe with the Lord.
Loosing Steve has been very difficult, even heart breaking. But I have learned so much about God during my trial. God is the healer of broken hearts, and I am blessed to know His healing power in my life. Sorrow has been such a poignant teacher that sometimes I call it "my friend, Grief." Hymns and scriptures have come to life, teaching me what only the grieving can know. The joy that comes from walking with God in the darkness is worth all the pain.
Just look at Habakkuk 3:17-19:
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls--
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer's feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills. (NKJV)
All had gone wrong in Habakkuk's world, yet he was rejoicing in the Lord. Through adversity God calls us to rejoice in Him. I have learned that those "high hills" Habakkuk talks about are not lovely high meadows where I run about and pick daisies! Those "high hills" are steep and rocky; they are treacherous and at times terrifying. The only reason I can walk on them at all is because God has changed my human, clumsy feet into "deer's feet." Habakkuk calls them "my high hills," and so should I call them "my high hills." Certainly these hills, these trials, were tailor made just for me. God has ordained each one.
In the Open Bible's study notes on the book of Habakkuk, the author gives this commentary:[Habakkuk] acknowledges that the just in any generation shall live by faith (2:4), not by sight. Habakkuk concludes by praising God's wisdom even though he doesn't fully understand God's ways.... The more he knows about the Planner the more he can trust His plans.
There comes a time in a Christian's life when he or she must decide if God's word is true. Yes, I believe that Christ died on a cross for my sin and He will one day take me to His heavenly home. But what about those scriptures which tell me that the Lord is like a shepherd to me, guiding, protecting, and providing every need? (Psalm 23) Psalm 5:11-12 says that I rejoice in the Lord who is my defender. His blessings surround me like a shield! In Psalm 17:8-9 God's word tells me that I am like the apple of God's eye. I am hidden (protected) under the shadow of His wings, and there, my enemies cannot touch me! Do I live like I believe the Word of God? Do I really believe that God's plans for me are for peace and a bright future? (Jeremiah 29:11-13) Or am I like the man in James 1:23-24 who hears the word but does not act upon it. "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was." (NKJV)
Christian, do you say, "God is sovereign," but then go on living in fear and anxiety about the future? Do you say, "In God I trust," but then act as if God is not trustworthy? My favorite Rush Limbaugh quote is, "Words have meaning!" If to you, the word "sovereign" does not mean "Lord and Master over all people and all things in heaven and earth," then you need to choose a different word to describe God! If you believe that most events in this world happen by chance, and that God looks on with His hands held behind His back, then your God is not sovereign. "But," you say, "God is sovereign, He just restrains Himself from acting in world events." However, if that were true, then we would have to say that God is not loving. Let me use the illustration of a husband and wife walking along a busy city street together. The wife steps off the curb to cross the street. Just then, the husband sees that if his wife takes one more step she will be hit by a speeding bus. Does he (a) reach out to pull his wife back to safety? Or (b) does he allow her to keep going, choosing not to intervene even though he has the power to save her? You say, of course the husband would save his wife! That is the loving thing to do! The Bible says that God is love (I John 4:8), yet, most people think of God behaving like the husband who chooses "b". You see, God, who IS love, will always act more lovingly toward His children than any earthly husband.
So, dear Christian, if God is sovereign, and if God is love, then we can believe what the scriptures say about Him. Consider the following:
Jeremiah 29:11-13 God has only good plans for us. Romans 8:28 God works for our good in all things. Psalm 118:1 God is good. Psalm 118:6 God is on my side. Psalm 118:8-9 God is to be trusted. Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light, my salvation and my strength.
I don't need to be afraid.
Psalm 18:30 God is a shield to all those who trust in Him.
Ponder on one more question. If God is not in control, then who is? Is Satan in control? Is no one is control? Or are you in control of your own destiny, the master of your own life? Any one of these answers can only produce fear and trembling, anxiety and worry! If God is not sovereign over all things, then we have plenty of reasons to worry. Do I need to list them? Crime, terrorism, drunk drivers, cancer, AIDS, our children, the economy, job security, etc., etc. We are commanded in scripture not to worry (Matthew 6:25-34) and not to be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6). We are told to rejoice continually because this is God's will for us (Phil. 4:4). The reason God can give us perfect peace is because He is in control! Isaiah 26:3 says, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You."
If God is good, sovereign and trustworthy, then how can we account for all the suffering in the world? For that answer we must look to the wisdom found in the scriptures. I hope you will look up the following scriptures for yourself. I have only given a summary of what the passage says.
Psalm 118:1 God is good. Isaiah 55:8-9 God's ways are mind-boggling. Isaiah 46:9-11 All which God purposes to do will come to pass. Psalm 115:3 Our God does whatever He pleases. Psalm 96:10-13 The Lord reigns. He will judge the world with righteousness. Job 12:10 The life of every living thing is in God's hands. Job 14:5 God numbers our days. Job 1:21-22 The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Job 2:10 God sends good and adversity. Psalm 7:11 "God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day." Psalm 11:5 God will judge the wicked. (They are held accountable.) Proverbs 16:4 "The Lord has made all things for Himself;
yes, even the wicked for the day of doom."
Isaiah 30:20 God gives adversity and affliction. Isaiah 45:6-7 The Lord brings peace and calamity. Deuteronomy 32:39 God is sovereign over life and death. Isaiah 43:11-13 No one can un-do God's work. Isaiah 43:7, 21 God has created His called-out ones for His glory Malachi 2:17 So you think God is unjust? Don't argue with God. Romans 9:6-26 God's sovereign choice. Who are you to reply against God?
One really cannot understand the existence of good and evil in the world until a thorough study of the sovereignty of God is made. Dr. Robert Jeffress made the following statement in his book Free to Forgive:Some well-meaning Christians, trying to defend God's reputation, prematurely excuse Him from any responsibility for human suffering. They say things like: "God is just as grieved about your baby's deformity as you are. As much as He wanted to, God could not violate the natural laws of genetics that resulted in your baby's defect." The first statement is absolutely true. God shares our every grief and carries our sorrow (see Isa. 53:4). I don't buy the second part. God is not captive to natural laws. He is not handicapped and unable to act (see Isa. 59:1). God has full responsibility for all human suffering, including the wrongs others commit against us. He is sovereign. He either chooses to cause events to happen, or He chooses to allow them to happen. Either way, He is in charge.
Perhaps our feeble minds will never sort it out, but the bottom line is this: God is God, and I'm not! Yes, pain is real and human suffering must never be denied or trivialized, but understanding God's sovereignty is the first step in accepting suffering and loss. Understanding who God is leads to peace. As A. W. Tozer said, "A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb, the whole structure must eventually collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God."
We must keep studying! The better we understand the character of God, the easier it becomes to trust Him and His work in the world. Then we can say with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." (Job 13:15, NKJV) The missionary, Watkin Roberts once said, " What an amazing Christ! He never seeks for our approval, only for faith to believe He is at work when all is mystery. To put one's life in His hands is not to be led astray."
COMFORTING THE GRIEVING: COMPASSION VS PITY
When you personally have experienced pain and suffering and have been comforted by the Lord through various means, then you are well equipped to comfort others who are suffering. II Corinthians 1:3-4 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (NKJV) Those who have been in the crucible of suffering and hold firmly to the doctrines of grace so that they come through shining with the light of His grace, make good counselors. But any Christian can learn to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15, NKJV). Remember that Christ Himself was a suffering servant, and the Holy Spirit is a mighty counselor.
Greg and I have endured much suffering because of the death of our son. We have been through a great trial, which no one would ever want in his or her own life. But right from the very start, beginning on that fearful night, I intuitively understood the difference between compassion and pity. The word pity is often used in scripture and elsewhere to mean compassion, sympathy, mercy, etc.; and so pity is a wonderful and right emotion for the Christian. But the English language is often so inadequate, lacking clarity, and troubled with double meanings. So for the purpose of this discussion I will call this first type of pity, compassion. In the noun form pity can take on a different meaning. Roget's International Thesaurus lists these other synonyms for pity-- abomination, terrible thing, a wrong, scandal, disgrace, shame, infamy, ignominy. It is this type of pity, which I wish to discuss. It is this connotation of pity, which I knew to hate.
You see, in my suffering, I welcomed compassion but not pity. Pity says, "You poor thing, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. How can you go on living?" Compassion says, "Let me walk with you, cry with you, and be a support for you. I want to know how your heart is breaking so that I might know how to help." Pity looks upon my trial as an abomination, a wrong, and a shame. That is the pity, which I hate. I hate it so because I hear the underlying message: "God made a mistake! God is not really good! God is not really sovereign! This thing is so horrible, God must not have meant it to happen!" So, you see, pity, when it is not compassion, comes across to me as a direct affront to the sovereignty and goodness of my God. And pity becomes a temptation, a snare of Satan, because it entices me to believe a lie. It tempts me to wallow in self-pity. Compassion encourages me to keep on trusting God, but pity robs me of all joy and leaves me doubting God.
Now, I am not saying that I deny my suffering or my aching heart. But I can know as a child of God where my security lies and where my joy comes from even in the midst of my trial. Because I know the sovereign God of the universe, I can go on living. Just like Job, I do not want to sin against God with my mouth, but I will praise the God who made me. Be ready, Christian, to face whatever trial God may have for you. "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator." (I Peter 4:12-13, 19, NKJV) I will end with the words of John Piper from his book Desiring God:All experiences of suffering in the path of Christian obedience, whether from persecution or sickness or accident, have this in common: they all threaten our faith in the goodness of God and tempt us to leave the path of obedience. Therefore, every triumph of faith and all perseverance in obedience are testimonies to the goodness of God and the preciousness of Christ-- whether the enemy is sickness, Satan, sin, or sabotage. Therefore all suffering, of every kind, that we endure in the path of our Christian calling is a suffering "with Christ" and "for Christ." With him in the sense that the suffering comes to us as we are walking with him by faith, and in the sense that it is endured in the strength that he supplies through his sympathizing high-priestly ministry (Hebrews 4:15). For him in the sense that the suffering tests and proves our allegiance to his goodness and power, and in the sense that it reveals his worth as an all-sufficient compensation and prize.