As death approached last night, and suffering, laboured breathing, caused tears to flow, I reached for ‘ Walking with God through Pain and Suffering’, by New York Times best selling author Rev. Timothy Keller.
Then the news came, from my cousin, a physician, able but not allowed, ” Its all over”. My aunt, who was like my second mother, I spent years with her, a gentle soul, was no more. Gone to glory. Just like my mother, and all the saints who went ahead of her.
So what did Keller share which touched my soul! And not just for me and my cousin and family, but words for a nation ‘ familiar with suffering’.
1980: 889 murders, and a terrifying record it was. First seven months of 2017: 893 murders. A tweet from one of Jamaica’s very senior and very insightful journalist, Earl Moxam
For if truth be told, like so many other Jamaicans, the continued barbarity and vulgarity of the ” death of innocence”, literally and metaphorically, has occasioned great pain and anger and bewilderment in our society. More than the death of my aunt. More so than the fifth place of #FastElaine or #UsainBolt third place, at #London2017. And trust me, if you are on social media as much as I am, you will understand that, to say the least, as a people we are not, apart from a few wise ones urging #Perspective, handling this thing well at all. And I gather it got worse this morning, with the news coming of our failure to reach the 4×400 Mens Relay Finals. Once a #SureMedalEvent.
So the wickedness, and the attendant rumours, which resulted in the shooting death of Micholle, and injury to her sister, was like a dagger in the heart of an already traumatized nation. ‘ Mi caan tek this no more’, was the collective cry of a hurting people.
Into this vortex of pain and suffering Keller inserts thoughts about the inevitability of death and of suffering in this world. Starting with a quote from Ernest Becker – the denial of death:
“I think that taking life seriously means something like this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived reality of the terror of creation…..of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise it is false.”
And one from Shakespeare: ” Each new morn New widows howl, new orphans cry, New sorrows strike heaven on the face”
” When we hear of a tragedy, there is a deep-seated psychological defense mechanism that goes to work. We think to ourselves that such things happen to other people, to poor people, or to people who do not take precautions. Or we tell ourselves that if only we get the right people into office and get our social systems right, nothing like this will happen again. ( Maybe he has Jamaican friends) But Becker believed such thinking fails to ” take life seriously “, or to admit the ” lived truth of the terror of creation…..of the rumble of panic underneath everything”. That panic comes from death. Death is irreducibly unpredictable and inexorable.”
And finally: ” ……No one is immune. Therefore, no matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, and comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our careers – something will inevitable ruin it. No amount of money, power, and planning can prevent bereavement, dire illness ( Aunt Monica had severe Alzheimer’s disease, and to a lesser extent so did my mom), relationship betrayal, financial disaster, or a host of other troubles from entering your life. Human life is fatally fragile and subject to forces beyond our power to manage. Life is tragic! We all know this intuitively, and those who face the challenges of suffering and pain learn all too well that it is impossible to do using only your resources. We all need support if we are not to succumb to despair. In this book we will argue that inevitably this support must be spiritual.”
Then this morning I awoke and was led to this Word by the Holy Spirit:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit…….
For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone by and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. Psalm 103.
Only the God whose Son Jesus Christ suffered and died on an old wooden cross, so that in Him, we may be reconciled to the Father, can comfort us in times of trouble. Can comfort my cousin. Can comfort Micholle’s mom. Can comfort a hurting and confused nation.
Not man! Not PM Holness as much he tries. Not the joy of winning any more medals, of whatever colour – desperation has set in- at #London2017. Not Police Commissioner Quallo. Certainly not President Trump in the face of pure evil in North Korea. Not the weatherman in the midst of the hurricane season. Not even the best doctors when real trouble comes knocking at our doorsteps. Only God.
And His ways are beyond ours. But because we know that in Christ He is ” familiar with suffering “, we trust Him. For Peace. And Justice. Even in death. Aunt Monica’s and Micholle’s.
For truth be told, as the songwriter puts it:
” I have no help but thine; nor do I need another arm save thine to lean upon:
it is enough, my Lord, enough indeed, my strength is in thy might, the might alone.”
A final word of caution to those who continue to reject God’s offer of grace and mercy in this troubled world:
Keller – ” ….as a man who seemed to about to lose both his career and his family once told me, ” I always knew, in principle, that ‘ Jesus is all you need’, to get through. But you don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” Peace.