Thursday, August 7, 2008

The worst word is not the last word

If you haven’t seen the interview Good Morning America did with Stephen Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth yesterday, you need to check it out (http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=5524419). Have a tissue handy. This is the first interview the family has given since the tragic death of their youngest daughter, Maria Sue. I was struck by the Chapman’s honesty and hope. They didn’t try to sugar coat the situation. They didn’t pretend they weren’t hurting. They didn’t deny that the death of their daughter had caused them to question God, their faith, you name it. Mary Beth’s confession that she didn’t care if this “helped” anybody else, she just wanted her baby girl back, brought me to tears.

It reminded me of a time in my own family’s life, when we had encountered a tragic loss. One of the least comforting things people would say was that this will make you a better minister – as if the highest goal God had for me in this loss was to “learn a lesson.” I would think to myself, “This may make me a better minister, but that can’t be God’s primary concern here.” It gets to a difficult question in our Christian lives – does God cause bad things in our lives in order to shape us into the type of people he wants us to be, to teach us a lesson as we say, or as he tends to us in our brokenness does he simply redeem (and not cause) the bad things in our lives that they may serve his ultimate purposes and our ultimate good? I don’t pretend to have this figured out but I certainly lean towards the latter.

There are bad things that happen in the world. Sometimes these bad things happen because we ourselves do bad things. Sometimes they happen because other people do bad things to us. Sometimes they just happen and no one is at fault. That God can use these bad things for our good and his purposes does not negate their tragic nature. The death of a child, a miscarriage, a murder, a divorce, any number of other tragedies – these things will be tragedies ten years from now . . . ten million years from now. We don’t have to pretend like such things are “good” when they clearly are not.

Hope isn't pretending that bad things are good. No, hope is believing that God is in the business of redeeming bad things for our good. What else is the cross, but God redeeming the worst we could do into the best he could do for us? Because of that, we can have hope. God says to us, as Richard John Neuhaus puts it, “The worst word is not the last word.” In the Chapman interview, you clearly see that they are presently encountering one of the worst words the world could speak, but you also see that they firmly believe the worst word shall not be the last word. Say a prayer for the Chapman family today – I can’t imagine having to go through such a tragedy, much less in the public eye. And say a prayer for one another, that when the worst words of life are spoken to us, we will hold fast to the truth that such words will not have the last say.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . . Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?. . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us – Romans 8:28, 35, 37.

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