“Suddenly…,” laments Paul McCartney in his song Yesterday, “I’m not half the man I used to be.” This is not only The Beatles’ most popular ballad, but it has been repeatedly voted the most celebrated song of the 20th century.
Yesterday, in the midst of a largely superficial news broadcast, the reporter’s tone was suddenly sombre. He spoke of a couple walking together in a southern Brisbane park the day before, on Sunday afternoon, where they were attacked by a magpie. The woman ducked and stumbled, resulting in catastrophic injuries to the baby in her arms. After a desperate trip to the Children’s Hospital, death’s blow crushed them all.
Simply hearing and knowing about this has altered my perspective. It opens up further awareness into the horror of human suffering. We search for how to respond, but there are no words for such an unspeakable tragedy, except our prayer that the Lord will work in His extraordinary ways in these dear parents’ lives.
King David, as a believer, understood the mercies of God’s covenant. He could say on the death of his infant son: “…I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (1 Samuel 12:23).
This is a profound assurance to have in the face of a lifeless child. It is the certain hope we are guaranteed before the flat-lining, crucified Jesus. Our first parents wilfully, not accidentally, brought death into this world. Jesus came to suffer that for us and to bring, in turn, resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
The Chicago Professor of Economics and popular podcaster, Steven Levitt, has spoken in a rare intimate moment of his most unthinkable fear. He said he had always believed that the loss of a child would be the most excruciating pain of all. When his son died suddenly, shortly after his first birthday, Levitt reveals how it was far worse than he could have ever possibly imagined.
How do we respond to devastating loss or disappointment in whatever form it may take? One hopeless pitfall is to ask: “Why me?” This suggests we would deem transferring our pain to someone whom we consider inferior to be an acceptable solution. Similarly crass, yet perhaps unintentionally so, is the consolation, “There is always someone worse off.” Deriving comfort from another’s greater suffering is called sadism. Once this is realised, such a sentiment must be rejected as no way to achieve genuine peace.
This can only come from the One who has indeed been afflicted the most, not by taking pleasure from His pain, but rather because it humbles us in reverence and gratitude. The Father’s cataclysmic loss of His Son at Calvary and the complete self-giving of the Son in bearing our sentence of eternal suffering and unending death is the ground zero of pain. It is here alone, by grace through faith, that we are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
And somehow, ultimately, all our deepest anguish is reconciled as well. Paul tells us in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
We may naturally think that the Apostle primarily has in mind here, as he often does, the tensions and conflicts of being a Christian in the hostile society of the Roman Empire. However, reading on, we see how he relates it to the entire creation – to every dimension of the horrific in our current existence.
C. S. Lewis may wax poetic on this subject, and yet there is something very real and dependable when he writes: “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory…And that is why…the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”
McCartney declared that he believed “in yesterday” – in the love he enjoyed before it was lost. This can be compared to a longing to return to Eden. And yet though we have lost paradise with our Creator, we have never lost His love. Because of His faithfulness we can trust and rest in Him whatever may come today or tomorrow and look forward to the supreme paradise with Him as our Redeemer forever.
– Andrew M Clarke is the Minister of North Toowoomba Presbyterian Church