If we are to be thankful for everything, that even means the death of a loved one

What happened in the Garden of Eden had little to do with fruit.

And it had everything to do with fruit.

What happened in Paradise, moments after father Adam and mother Eve ate of the forbidden fruit? Adam blamed God for giving him a woman, and blamed woman for his failure; woman blamed circumstance (and therefore indirectly God).

However you want to take that, you can see neither of those accusations are the fruit of love. They weren’t selfless, they weren’t believing the best of someone, they weren’t not keeping a list of wrongs, they weren’t humble.

When you combine that with the two greatest mitzvahs, love YHVH with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself, then does it become possible to see all of history–personal and human–as the curriculum of love? Is all history God teaching us what love looks like? And how we ought to love one another?

If you’re life has been fairly according-to-plan that might sound quaint and nice, like something you read in a Hallmark card. But if your life seems to have been a train wreck, that you crawled away from only to be hit by the ambulance, then it seems like a lie. If this world teaches us of love, what can God know about the subject?

There have been days–and still are–when I’ve said if this is what your love looks like, then love is an evil thing and I don’t want it!

But maybe for reasons we don’t understand, it is about love and this is the best and only way to learn it.

A couple days ago was the tenth of Av. Av is a Hebrew month, which actually is the same word for father. Jews will think of the ninth of Av and fast and remember it for the destructions of the Temples and other calamities, but for me and Alisa and I, the tenth will overshadow all else. That was the day God took Asher from us. That was the worst day in history for us.

But I begin to thank God for it. I can’t show you something to hold in your hand for why. Yes, we have another son and we love him, and we can hold him. Praise God! But I think of my spiritual journey which only I can see, and though I would describe it as crawling from the train wreck and being hit by the ambulance . . . spiritual truth has been coming to my like never before. The Song of Solomon and Job came alive, writing Backwards the Torah became love in front of my eyes. I see people, even my wife, and I find I care so much more for all of them. I want to hug them and hold them and tell them they are loved. I want to care for the elderly. The idea of wiping poopy butts seems like a privilege (not that I don’t wrinkle my nose). I’m not saying I’ve been turned into Gandhi. I still have a lot of anger, some of it at God. I’m still selfish. But I see the path before me as changed.

And I ask why. The answer comes: the tenth of Av. God broke me on that day, broke something loose inside me. I can’t help thinking, that by bringing me into a living hell, God taught me to care for the hell others live in. By suffering, God taught me compassion. And I can see the same effect in others. For the first year after Asher died, I listened to Beauty Will Rise on the 10th of every Hebrew month. I don’t listen as much any more, but I still can’t get through the album with crying. And I can’t get through it without feeling loved. Someone else in the world understands what it means to lose a child. And they can take that suffering to God, and I know that understanding comes from God. They get it because God gets it.

And how did Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife “get it” from God? God took their child. Is it a coincidence that the work that has ministered the most to me came from someone who has suffered like me? Is it a coincidence that the first couple to visit us after we returned home to the place where Asher died were a Gary and Diane, a couple that had also lost a child?

And from us outward, we have a neighbor who says because of Asher’s death and the grief around it, he felt peace for the loss of his own child. Our suffering became love to someone else, just as the suffering of others lead their love towards us. There was another friend, Tim, who showed up to help us bury Asher up on the hill. Others had shown up, but I didn’t know Tim as well, but because of that day I’ll never forget him and count him among my best friends. And his presence in time of trouble, was love to me . . . and I wonder at it, what has happened in his life that triggered that compassion?

That’s what keeps coming back. All of this compassion from one to another, comes because of suffering. One couple ministering to another because they have suffered. We look at terrible things, and we ask God why he would allow it if he loves us? But we overlook that the first and deepest tragedy is that people live without love for others. The worst thing in the Eden was not the Serpent or the tree or death as a result of the tree. The worst thing was the cancer in our souls that caused us to hate others and God and ourselves too.

If God can heal that by having everyone of us lose a child or a spouse or a father or mother, then let it fall. Would you rather have an easy life but without love? How many easy days have you forgotten? And how many acts of kindness have changed your life? The world is shaped by kindness in the face of misery, not by days of leisure and convenience. How much goodness has God unleashed in the world precisely because the world is allowed to suffer?

The tenth of Av, still feels like a pit in my stomach, and I still can’t get through See with dry eyes . . . especially when I sing along . . . but I would not undo it. I learn with time to thank God for giving it to me. And I fear a little bit, that if I lost that wound that I would also lose my compassion for others. I would rather God hurt me again. And I hope that when I pass, it hurts someone else so that they can learn to love.

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2 Responses to If we are to be thankful for everything, that even means the death of a loved one

  1. Diane Phelps says:

    Absolutely breathtakingly awesome… all praise to our FATHER

  2. Carl Mangis says:

    After the Mourner’s Kaddish every week, in which we affirm God’s goodness even through our loss of loved ones, we recite 2Cor. 1:3-4:
    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
    Paul goes on to describe, in much the same terms that you do, how our sufferings can benefit others in addition causing us to grow ourselves. I think the time a community of believers is most important is when one of their number loses a loved one. “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” Woe to the brother in Messiah who loses a child without fellow-believers around to comfort him! How can those who don’t share our faith help us overcome that kind of mourning? Even I, who haven’t ever lost someone close to me, can at least encourage with words of Scripture or prayers. But you’re right, you can use what God has taught you in a powerful way to help others.

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