“Blessed be Your name when the sun is shining down on me and the world is all as it should be.” I sang that one Sunday with my husband, Tony by my side and our six beautiful children surrounding me. I’ve always loved it but that morning I was struck by this line. I thought, “This is where I am.” But I was also keenly aware of the lines that follow and I wondered, “Where is my road marked with suffering?”
Because life happens, we were late to church that morning. Our usual pew was mostly filled, so we instead sat at the end of three different pews. As the service went on my four big kids took turns holding their baby brother. Several times during the service he was lifted up and over to another set of hands. I thought, “I’m so sorry Pastor Doug. No one behind us is going to be able to concentrate on your sermon with all this going on!” But the joy of watching my kids love on their sibling kept me from bringing it to an end.
Two days later that song was going over and over in my head. I knew it well, I thought. At five o’clock I was making biscuits for dinner as the refrain, “He gives and takes away” echoed in my mind. When I saw what time it was, I realized that I should get Jeremiah up from his nap so I could feed him before we ate. He had been asleep a longer time than usual, but had always been a good napper. Since my hands were covered with flour I asked my eldest to go get his brother. Jeremiah had been born on Josiah’s twelfth birthday and they had a special bond.
He went upstairs and yelled down, “Mom, he has a bloody nose!” Then immediately after, “Mom, he’s not breathing!” I ran up the stairs as he met me halfway, holding Jeremiah. I knew he was gone. He actually felt lighter than his ten plus pounds.
The next few hours were a nightmare I longed to wake up from. While I called 911 and attempted at the dispatcher’s suggestion to give him CPR, Josiah gathered his siblings upstairs for a prayer meeting. When the paramedics arrived they worked on him but I knew it didn’t matter, it was over, he was gone. The police wouldn’t let me pick him up off the floor because my home was now a crime scene. They were kind and apologetic about it, but rules are rules. I just laid down with him and wept. By then the kids had gotten my mom from next door and she had called Tony and our associate pastor.
Tony had been about to go in to teach his class at the university. He put a sign on the door and headed home. My mom had just said that something was wrong with Jeremiah, so when he got near the hospital he called to see if he should be meeting an ambulance there. She told him, “No, just come home.” He had time then to prepare for what awaited him. He remembered a story that a paramedic friend had told at church years before about responding to an infant death call. Long before, he had wondered what his response would be if he was called on to experience the same.
When he got home he joined me on the floor for a while then told me we needed to go next door and let the police do their job. First, he gathered me up and pulled in our pastor/friend and the kids and my mom and said a prayer, thanking God for the gift of Jeremiah’s life and committing him to God’s arms. Everything within me screamed at the wrongness of leaving my baby on the floor and walking out the door. And still, the refrain, “He gives and takes away…” continued in my mind.
We’re now seven years further down the road from that night. The song is still a popular one. It obviously resonates for many. Most Sundays when it is a part of our worship, I can get through almost all of it without tears. But when we get to, “He gives and takes away” my throat usually closes and my eyes burn. That isn’t to say that I don’t mean every word I sing. I do. But they mean more to me than ever before. In fact, my heart sings all the louder when my voice stops.
I love the story of Job and I’ve written more about it <HERE>. Job has always been an inspirational story of extraordinary faith. But that night in 2009, I was able to relate to him in a way that had never occurred to me before. And my perspective on pain and suffering changed significantly.
I don’t know how long it’s been since you’ve read this story, but the drama actually starts before the worst day of Job’s life. After introducing us to our main character, we are ushered into the very throne room of Heaven. Here we see Satan coming before God, in order to present an evidently required report of his work. You may assume that he already has designs on this favored man of God. But, actually we see God bringing Job into the conversation. “Have you considered my servant, Job?” It is after God has bragged on Job’s faithfulness that Satan makes plans to bring him down a notch or ten. In this way, all the suffering that follows is a result of Job’s faith in God. It is also the instrument that God will use to display His child’s faith and His own faithfulness.
After receiving more bad news than any other human has ever had to bear in one day, Job makes this most extraordinary declaration:
Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord! Job 1:21
Leaving for the moment the idea of returning to his mother’s womb, look what came next. He knows where all of his blessings have come from and to whom they all actually belong. This concept has been confounding God’s people from the beginning and I for one struggle with it still. It is easy to imagine that we are the monarchs of all we oversee and even that somehow we deserve it all. The Bible, however does not support such imaginings.
In addition to the cattle on a thousand hills, God not only owns but is the very source of every blessing that you or I enjoy today. As hard as it is to accept, this is not only true of all the inanimate objects that catch our fancy. It is just as true for the dear, dear people we believe we could never live without.
Lest I cause any to think that God is a highly functioning sociopath, enjoying the pain of His subjects, let’s remind ourselves how God described Himself to Moses:
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Exodus 34:6-7
Does that sound like Someone who would allow unnecessary suffering? The problem comes when our definition of unnecessary clashes with God’s.
The Bible says that before the creation of the world God knew us and loved us (Eph 1:4) therefore I think we can assume that He is the best judge of what would be the most efficient, thereby necessary, means for us to become the people He designed us to be. We all want to be happy. And, of course we think we know what would make us happy. But I propose that the deepest happiness possible for each of us can only happen when we are doing what we are designed to do.
What does all this philosophy have to do with Jeremiah or Job? Well, it all comes down to whether or not we trust the God who knew us, loved us, and made us (in that order). If I trust that my Creator is Good and that He loves me and that He only bring things into my life that will develop me into the person He designed me to be, then my response to joy or pain will be, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In the early days without Jeremiah, God showed Tony and I that this painful experience brought us a perspective we never could have gained on our own. We saw that far from abandoning us, God was nearer that day than ever before. And, though we had moments of feeling forsaken, we had actually been especially chosen to bear this burden. And, while we sometimes felt too weak to carry the load, we were surrounded by human and angelic help.
And, at the risk of sounding more important than I am, I was comforted by the thought of a Heavenly meeting about Tony and I. I imagined Satan coming for his regularly scheduled audience and having God say, “Have you considered my servants, Tony and Lara?”
Thank you for reading! If you’d like to read more about our story of letting go of Jeremiah you can read <Here> about how God surrounded us with His people who were His physical hands and feet during those first excruciating weeks. And how He faithfully expressed His love to each family member in a very personal way <Here>.
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Has God led you down a “road marked with suffering?” What did you learn? Do you struggle to trust God? Why do you think that is? If trusting Him is not difficult for you, why do you think that is? Please comment below and let’s wrestle these things out together (Phil 2:12).