Friday, May 30, 2008

Thinking of the Chapman Family

I have been unable to shake the knot in my throat for days now since I have heard about the tragic death of Maria Chapman, the youngest daughter of Steven Curtis Chapman. Last November my family sat in his concert and cried as he sang Cinderella, a song he wrote about her.
He has been one of my favorite Christian artists since I received free cassettes of his in a sample package 20 years ago when I was a youth pastor.

What do you say to them? What can I say to them? The blog they established in her memory already has over 18,000 comments, more than 2,000 people attended her funeral. My thoughts will just add to the pile they are already experiencing. My prayers I will still add to countless others. Of course, most of my time would be spent listening, but I asked myself, what would I say if I was called upon to comfort?

I could share some sentimental notion about my two children in heaven welcoming her, or playing with her, or singing with her. But, what is that? We don't know how that works, or if it would even happen. Where is the help and hope in that?

We found the greatest help and hope from what we could affirm from Scripture. Affirming things that God said to be true was the strongest anchor for our hearts when we were inclined to accuse or blame or despair. Nothing helped us like reminding us of what God has said about similar pain. Here is a start:

  • Psalm 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A special sense of God's presence is reserved for those who are crushed and brokenhearted. Lean into Him.
  • Psalm 127:3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. No matter how they come or how long they stay, children are a treasure from the Lord. If they bring pain or pleasure they are still sent from the Lord. God's design is for blessing.
  • Job 1:21-22 "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. Job 2:10 is equally staggering: "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. I can identify with Job who lost more children than I have. Why does the writer repeat that Job did not sin in what he said? Because he was right to affirm that God was in the calamity that came upon him. Yes, the devil had designs to destroy Job and the Sabeans stole his oxen, but God did not look the other way. He was sovereign over their sin and their intended destruction of this man of faith. Don't abandon this calamity to less loving causes than God.
  • Job 42:5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Some of God's design in this tragedy is to give you a glimpse of Him that you can only hear about another way. This is Job's reflection on his experience of losing his children -- I got to know God.
  • Lamentations 3:19-33 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust-- there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. I was going to shorten this, but every word of this weeping prophet is precious. Several things in this passage are worth affirming:
    • Honesty about how I feel is not only acceptable, but the means by which I am reminded of the Lord's mercy.
    • It is because of the Lord's great love that my unbearable situation is not worse.
    • God's goodness is not changed by this calamity.
    • It will not last forever. I will not be cast off by the Lord forever.
    • "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.He brings grief (same affirmation as Job). He also brings compassion.
    • This affliction and grief is not His first choice. He does not willingly bring it, or literally He doesn't bring it 'from the heart'. His first desire is not this pain. Yet, He sends it anyway.
  • John 9:3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." This is not God's judgment for your sin. His judgment for sin (for believers) is taken care of on the cross. God has designs beyond this suffering to display His glory.
  • John 11:5-6 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. The smallest word in this sentence is the most significant, "so". Jesus love Martha, Mary and Lazarus SO, as a result, he waited two days. . . just long enough to let Lazarus die. Mary and Martha both said, "If you were here he would not have died!" Odd as it may seem, the love of Jesus led to the death of Lazarus. Less odd, Jesus' absence led to the revelation of His glory. His love and his glory are wed in the suffering of this family.
  • Psalm 44: When none of these affirmations help, Psalm 44 gives voice to my complaint. The two parts that have been most helpful to me are verse 12, "You sold us for a pittance gaining nothing by our sale," and verse 20, which says we'd expect you to treat us this way if we'd been unfaithful, but we haven't been. So, a complaint of faith and a call to remember is the most spiritual thing we can do.
  • Psalm 73:25-26 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Nothing has shown us that God himself is the only reliable source of joy and hope like losing a child. This passage is where we finally landed, it broke our fall. God is our strength and our eternal portion. Nothing else will satisfy our hearts. Everything else will break our hearts!
Why do I share this? Maybe you will have opportunity one day to comfort someone in an unspeakable tragedy. What will you say? I hope this helps. It has helped us. There is nothing like a world-changing, life-altering tragedy to display the strength of Christian hope.

Steve, Mary Beth, and Chapman Family, you are in my prayers.

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