In the summer of 2011 we arrived at St Thomas’ Church spiritually shell shocked. We had just lost our boy and I knew I couldn’t continue to lead the church we’d been at previously.
We decided to go back to St Tom’s, the church that had been our first spiritual home in Sheffield. In our grief and confusion we still had an instinct to believe. As much as we didn’t understand losing Ben we couldn’t deny the ways in which God had changed and shaped our lives.
Few people knew us at St Tom’s and nothing was expected of us. That meant that when the modern, faith filled worship songs started up I could choose whether or not to join in. Church was a place of welcome and acceptance to help us slowly regather and rebuild. Beyond that there was hope that this God we were so confounded by still had good plans for the new life we’d been wrenched into.
We’ve come a long way but I still sometimes find myself pausing at some of the words we sing.
Words like – ‘You’re never gonna let me down’ and ‘there is nothing that can stop our God’
I often talk these days about our expectations of God. Your sense of whether he has indeed let you down comes from your expectations of what God is there to do. I talk about God’s promise to be with us, that he doesn’t promise to make everything okay – he rather helps us through the notokayness.
I can sing these songs because God has been faithful to us through it all. Recently, though, as I’ve been singing I’ve been thinking about the impact of death and the fact that we can see death as God letting us down
More than one person has told me that the death of a loved one caused them to stop believing in God. The sense is – if God can’t stop that what’s he there for? So in fact – how could he be there at all?
There is no pain like the pain of bereavement. I made a new friend last week, a colleague of a friend – we sat and talked, two bereaved Dads trying to make sense of it all. For all that had gone before this event was now the frame of our life.
The anger with God I’ve encountered at times spills over from anger with death – how could our loved ones be taken away? It’s a reaction of pain more than reasoning – how are we supposed to manage without them?
The truth though that we know, however much we fight it, is that everyone dies. For all the shock and affront, death is an intrinsic part of life that we need help to cope with.
Into this, the Bible passage that keeps coming back to my mind at the moment is from Romans 8. In the passage it says repeatedly that nothing that can separate us from the love of God. It then lists things that cannot – starting with death.
Death cannot separate us from the love of God. Death does not separate us from the love of God. Death doesn’t mean he’s stopped loving us or stopped being there.
Death is shocking and painful, nothing smooths off the rough edges. We cannot predict or control death and that means at times, such as ours with Ben it makes no sense.
For all that we want life and God to make sense to us sometimes they stubbornly refuse to.
So where is the love of God in all this?
The love of God is in the people that hold us and carry us through.
The love of God is in his grace to live again.
The love of God is in Jesus’ promise that there is a place prepared for us in his Father’s house.
However painful and bewildering life is, nothing is beyond the arms of God.
And those arms are open to us today.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:37-39 NLT)