S = Sorrow Upon Sorrow of Parents Who Lose A Child

Tomorrow marks two years since we said goodbye to our teenage son, Nathan, who went to be with Jesus. We were on holidays and we knew that the cancer would take him soon, but it’s hard to drive home with one less kid in your car.

When he died, I was relieved that he was with his Lord, but I still miss him so much. My temporary shepherding of him had finished, and he now is with the the greater shepherd of his soul.

I still cry when I eat his favourite food, watch his favourite sport, or see a picture of him as a little child or young man enduring chemotherapy. Sometimes I weep uncontrollably, as I am doing right now. Other times, I just cry internally. It’s like the tears just fall down the inside of my face rather than the outside. No one sees them. The tears are mixed with joy, thankfulness, parental pride, gratitude and confidence that I will see him again. But they are still tears.

The New Testament gives us hope in Christ, for all who trust in him, but I also take great encouragement from the smallest of phrases, “sorrow upon sorrow”. The Apostle Paul, who taught us to grieve with hope, could also say about his dear friend and brother.

Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.  (Phil. 2:27 cf. 1 Thes. 4:13)

While I have been strengthened by Jesus and his gospel, I wanted now to dig into the Old Testament, which portrays many generations of parents and children living outside the Garden of Eden.  What does it reflect to us about the tragedy of a parent burying their son or daughter?

In my small search, here are six things I have found that I need to tell myself and others who have lost children.

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R = Raised Up a Horn For His People (Christmas Special)

Christmas is a time when metaphors shine, and the most popular one does so literally. Christ is the true light who came into a dark world. Names also speak volumes. Immanuel is God for-us becoming God-with-us. He is called Jesus because he saves his people from their sins. One name and metaphor, however, is lost in all translation, not the word-for-word rendering, but in cultural traction, even though it abounds in the English Bible. Zechariah, the priestly father of John the Baptist prophecies about Jesus with words given him by the Holy Spirit.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old …” (Lk. 1:69-70. Emphasis here and for the rest of the article is mine)

We don’t place horns on our Christmas trees, cards or around our church buildings. Here’s a challenge: search the zillions of well-loved Christmas carols and find one that mentions horns. Almost every other Biblical (and non-Biblical) imagery, is squeezed into our Christian Christmas piety.

Let’s see what the Hebrew Bible says about horns and why Zechariah would link them with the birth of his saviour.

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O = Outwit, Outplay, Outlast! Hebrew Women are Survivors.

Watch a woman give-birth, a mother stand-up for her child, a widow quietly undergo hardship, and you will see a strength, dignity and endurance of a different type to men. Not better, just different. On average, men can bench-press more, fight wars for national protection, and engage in riskier professions, but women are the survivors.

Post-modern history teachers tend to obscure this plain truth. In almost every society, in any age, the same story rings true. When under intense threat men may carry the weapons, but, with greater urgency, women will carry the babies from the spears, scimitars or the attack-helicopters of the invaders. Evolutionists and biblicists hold the same truth, externally communities depend on men for protection, but on women to be knit-together and to protect the weakest and most vulnerable members of that society. In families and churches, some men stand-up as leaders, but almost all women pass-on traditions, maintain healthy patterns, and keep things going.

In the pre-Exodus days, Pharaoh might have been scared of the Hebrew male, but little did he know, that the female of the species would be his undoing. These women outwitted, outplayed and outlasted the king of Egypt three times. First, with the full cooperation of men, and then twice entirely without male help at all…

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N = Nebuchadnezzar, will I see you in heaven?

My family loves Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), a triple-win, big-family congeniality and clean humour, all served-up Steve Martin’s wit. One scene stands out, where he, the stressed-out and guilty father, has to perform an impromptu funeral for his oft-forgotten son’s favourite pet.

“Beans was a good frog. He was, uh, not like a lot of the bad frogs…you hear about today, all hopped up. He was loveable. He was almost human. He was like, uh, one of the family. Except that, of course, he was green and he ate flies. But he was a hopper. He hipped and he hopped. He loved hip-hop.”

Nebuchadnezzar was no Beans. In the Bible’s story, this Babylonian king had one of the most remarkable personal turn-arounds in the whole Old Testament. But he was not one of God’s people; he was their chief captor. If someone asked you to give him a eulogy, what would you say?

“Nebuchadnezzar started off as a bad king, he became a good king. He wasn’t like those other kings you hear about who never humbled themselves. At times he killed and burned. At other times he bowed and he kneeled. For his arrogance, become like an animal and ate grass. But by the end, he lifted his eyes to heaven.”

Eulogies suppress the horrific and highlight the best. In Nebuchadnezzar’s case, now ancient history, there is not much to be gained by praising him, nor burying him. But, can we ask a dangerous question?

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M = Mining is a massive blessing from God

A young teacher sits in a classroom and enthusiastically tells the kids how bad mining is for our world. The students all agree and post about it on Facebook. That teacher sits on a chair with metal legs, and a seat made of plastic, derived from petrochemicals. On her desk rests a reusable coffee cup, filled with locally brewed coffee, ground and extracted in a machine made of plastic and metal. The students recline at wooden tables, cut, manufactured, painted and transported using, you guested it, tools, treatments and fuel made of substances that have in some way been dug up. The computers and phones they all use, the building they sit in, and the fixed-gear bike the teacher rides home, speak a contradictory message to the well-worn pantomime that mimics education.

Everything that makes the civilised world work is in some way dependent on mining. Go to a hospital and receive treatment for cancer, a broken leg or dehydration and, all you see and experience, is made possible directly and indirectly from the wealth of the Earth’s riches. Eat food, live in a house, use refrigeration, go to a supermarket, flush a toilet, rely on clean sanitation and you should be saying thank you to the miners (and builders and engineers) who made it possible. Healthy drinking water is dependent on electricity, which regardless of whether it comes from coal, gas and nuclear comes from the ground. Even solar, wind and hydro-electric power stations are constructed from materials. Productive farming methods, from ploughs to combine harvesters, that give us freedom as a society for people to sit around and complain about mining, only exist thanks to what mining has given us.

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L = Living Waters

Kangaroo carcasses, spread on the side of the dirt road, and next to each lifeless heap, deep scratch marks. Recently returned from his outback trip, a friend painted this sensory picture of deadly thirst. Had we been there, we might have seen majestic animals wildly digging up the red dirt, desperately trying to find water.

This year, country New South Wales has endured one of the worst droughts on record. Cattle have been hand fed by desperate and despairing farmers. Sheep have been put down by the RSPCA. In alarming rates, farmers have sadly taken their own lives.

In spite of all this, here in Sydney, I can still water my lawn, take a daily shower, wash my dishes, and drink as much clean water as I desire. In big cities, we don’t know how good we have it. Hike, work on the land, or survive a natural disaster, and you always think about the supply levels of the most precious liquid on earth.

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K = Kill ’em all

The Israelites were meant to be the hammers of God’s judgment on the abhorrent and violent behaviours of the existing nations of the promised land (Gen. 15:13-16; Lev. 18:24,27; Deut. 18:10-12). The passage before us does not focus on retribution, let alone theodicy, but on the Lord’s prophylactic against ongoing corrupting influences on his treasured people. 

There must be no skerrick in the land of its previous inhabitants, neither familial nor political alliances with them, and no evidence of their pagan culture, human sacrifices or shrine prostitution. Israel’s single-minded devotion mattered. The faith of unborn generations hung on their obedience.

While it might please some readers that the Israelites did not keep this command seriously, that belies something flaky in our Christian constitutions. We think the worst thing that can happen to someone is for them to die.  But there are many worse things, including turning one’s backs on God. The rest of the history of Israel lives out the heart-wish of many modern readers as Israel’s limp devotion to the Lord expressed itself in leaping between two opinions, syncretistically following others gods and forsaking their very own fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2:4-13). 

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