It was a record of sorts. I have never had two good friends die on me in the same week. But that was how I saw the year out. My good friend Prem passing on on the 26th of December. And my good friend Luan on the 31st of December. No New Year reflections. No New Year resolutions. Just grief, my own and others’. And the privilege to speak at the memorial services, one for Prem, two for Luan.
I was deeply honoured to be allowed to speak. Preparing for the talks gave me a focus for my grief and forced me to wait upon the Lord. But what do I say that was to be both honest and comforting? God didn’t tell Job His reasons why bad things happen to good people. He didn’t seem to be telling us this time round too.
Why should two of our best, both parents, both obedient servants, both key figures in church renewal, both prayed for by many, be taken away by cancer? There is so much we don’t know. So in my second homily in memory of Luan I focused on what we do know. Here are four truths from the book of Romans.
First we know that we live in a fallen world. Paul reminds us: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”(Romans 8:22 TNIV)
God has never promised that His children will be spared the brokenness of a fallen world. Indeed it is often our common brokenness that gives us opportunity to dialogue with non-Christians about the meaning of life and the promise of the gospel. It is the brokenness of a fallen world that reminds us that we are destined for another world.
Second, we know that we are destined for a perfect world. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18 TNIV)
Here is reason for hope and even joy in the midst of tears. This world may be a vale of tears but we are destined for another, a place of wholeness and shalom filled with the glory of God. We know that the joys of that place will more than compensate for whatever sufferings we have to go through in this life, and my friends went through much. On that day God will owe us nothing. All our sufferings, great though they may be, will be just a tiny spec swallowed up in the joy that awaits. And our friends have gone on ahead.
A third thing we know is that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 TNIV)
It is important to remember that God defines love by the Cross, sacrificial loving action, not by warm fuzzy feelings. Therefore as we look back on all that happened to our friends we accept by faith that at no time did God stop loving them though we often did not understand what His love was up to. And we know that our friends continue in that love but now beyond the limits of this fallen world.
Finally we know that God actively uses all the details of our lives, both the good and the bad, to construct His perfect future. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 TNIV)
In God’s economy nothing is wasted. To acknowledge God as the Author and Finisher of our lives is to know that He is actively bringing meaning out of chaos all the time. It is to know that even the black two-dimensional sorrows of our lives become negatives that print full colored photos of life in the hands of the Master.
So, in a time where there is so much we do not know, these things we know:
1. We live in a fallen world.
2. We are destined for a perfect world.
3. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
4. In all things God is working for our good.
God’s ways are indeed higher than ours. There are many things He hasn’t told us. Perhaps He can’t. But He has told us enough. We focus our lives on what we do know and trust Him for what we don’t.
No, there was no time for any year end reflections but these four truths are as good a guide as any for the New Year.
In 2007 I must not be surprised by trouble in the world, in the lives of my loved ones and in my own life. We live in a fallen world.
If I live through 2007 I am one year nearer to home. I must continually bear in mind that this world is not my ultimate home. I am on a journey.
Whatever happens in 2007 I know my God is working out all things for good. Because God is working out His will in history and in my life, nothing is meaningless.
Whatever happens in 2007, I can be assured of God’s love.Nothing can separate me from that. Nothing can separate me from Him.
It has been a hard year’s end. I do not know what 2007 holds. But I know enough.