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death grief

Indecision

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My nephew, David, posted the following on his Facebook wall about a year after losing his younger brother in a car accident.

It interesting how much one’s views can be altered by experiences. Before my little brother’s death I was an organ donor. It’s seemed like a simple decision at the time. As I checked the box on the drivers’ license form, I distinctly remember thinking,  “I’m not going to need them. Heck, might as well let someone else who does have them.”

Then my little brother, Scott, got into his car drove off to meet his older brother, Marshall, for a concert. He never got there. Scott was an underage consenting organ donor. He was declared brain dead sometime early on  the Saturday morning following the accident. No brain activity, no blood flow in his brain. He was dead. He would never wake up. Yet he was on life support, most of the rest of his body unharmed. A perfect donor patient. At this point my family had a decision to make. Did we want to go through the organ donating process with Scott’s brain-dead body, or did we simply want to unplug the machines and let the rest of his body realize it was dead? My family decided that Scott would have wanted to be a donor. If Scott had not been a minor, we would have had no say in this matter. He would have been a consenting organ donor of legal age to make the decision for himself. And so my parents got to sit in the hospital for two days and watch their son be dead but not dead. I finally made my way home on the afternoon of the first day, and I saw my little brother for the fist time. He looked like he was sleeping. I wanted to shake him. “Scott, wake up! We’re all here for you, buddy.” He did not wake up. He would never wake up. I sat with him a while. At one point a cheery nurse came in and checked his vital signs. She was very pleased to see how fast his body had come out of shock. Finally, on Sunday evening they wheeled Scott off to the operating room where they harvested his organs. He was finally, truly dead. I remember, it was raining. The organ donating process had taken a heavy toll on Scott’s loved ones, especially my parents.

At that point I decided: I was not going to be an organ donor. I simply could not put my family through that again. I was so adamant about it that I took a permanent marker and blacked out the word “Donor” on my driver’s license. A few weeks later, I was going through security on my way to Korea. The security lady looked at my driver license and said “You don’t want to be a Donor?” I looked her straight in the eyes and said adamantly, “No I do not.” A few weeks after that, I went to the DMV. I was prepared to pay the $35 in cash to have them print me an new driver’s license. I wanted three things changed. I wanted a “Good” picture taken, I wanted my address updated, and I wanted my donor status changed. I told horror  stories at work and warned people to think twice about becoming a donor.

And then my parents told me about a chance meeting they had with the man who got my little brother’s heart. My parents were both very encouraged by meeting him and realized that the agony of dragging out my little brother’s death had allowed someone else to live. After hearing Mom and Dad talk about him, I wanted to meet this man whose life my brother’s death had saved. For the record, I have not changed my driver license back. I’m still mulling over whether I ever will.

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death grief jesus theology tragedy

All Things

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He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

All things.

I used to think this meant that God would give me things I want. He already gave me Jesus. He won’t withhold anything else. But if you read a little further, you find out what things Paul has in mind:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Trouble? Hardship? Persecution? Why would a loving Father give me that? But wait. He didn’t spare his own Son. Why would he spare me? Did Jesus have trouble? Check. Hardship? Check. Persecution? Check. Yet Jesus remained so secure in his Father’s love that he could face all those things. He even faced something we do not have to face: God’s rejection.

My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:46)

But to us he says:

Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you. (Heb 13:5)

So our loving Father graciously gives us all things—trouble, hardship, persecution—along with Jesus. Because it turns out that life always comes at us with trouble, doesn’t it? We have accidents. We lose jobs. Friends and loved ones die. But now we regard all these things as gifts graciously given by God, who assures us of his surpassing love by giving Jesus too.

How tempting it is to think when trouble comes that God hates us or is displeased with us or at least doesn’t care about us. Then we remember Jesus, and the sacrifice God made for us to demonstrate the incomparable greatness of his love for us. This, too, comes from (or was allowed by) my loving Father, the same Father who showed how great his love is by sending Jesus. I am sad. My soul is downcast. I grieve. And yet….

In the midst of my pain, I know he loves me. While grieving, I remember his goodness. Though I do not understand, I trust.

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.

All scriptures taken from Romans 8 (NIV) unless otherwise noted.

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book review death grief suffering theology

New Problem of Pain

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Mark Tabb offers a very accessible explanation for why God allows pain and suffering in the world. Using the book of Job as well as anecdotes from his own experience as a pastor and chaplain, Tabb takes on the problem of pain and provides a defense that is compassionate, reasonable, and lucid.

The book of Job is not an easy book to understand. Written as ancient Hebrew poetry, it has troubled both translators and interpreters. Everything Job’s comforters say to him, for example, seems to come right out of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. Yet the author of Job charges them with bad comfort and—worse—misrepresenting God. Tabb does an excellent job navigating the concepts presented in Job, explaining their relevance to his theme, and making the book come alive for his readers.

Interpreting Job, however, is not Tabb’s main purpose. He wants to answer the question that forms the title of his book: How Can a Good God Let Bad Things Happen? He tells us right off that he has another question in mind, too, one that Job himself asks: Shall we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10). Tabb squarely confronts the conundrum of a good God who nevertheless permits or even causes disaster (see Isaiah 45:7).

Throughout, Tabb’s style is conversational and personal. I never had the feeling that he was talking down to me or telling me just to buck up. His use of personal anecdotes as well as liberal quoting from the Bible and C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain appeals to both heart and head. This is a book for those who have experienced pain and loss. It is also a book for those who simply want to understand. The hardest part of sharing another’s grief is that you can’t. You want to empathize, to feel with them, but you find yourself able to offer nothing more than your presence.

Tabb leads us through the shock and horror of tragic loss, through anger at God and disbelief, to acceptance and perhaps something more, perhaps to genuine comfort. To some his answers will still seem trite. Certainly the last chapter, introducing heaven and eternity as balm for the wounded soul, is the weakest. He is at his best when dealing with the here and now. But his reasoning is theologically sound and thoroughly orthodox, an excellent antidote to recent works that explain pain by diminishing God.

This book is for anyone who has ever questioned how God can be both loving and all powerful. For some, this issue is a major stumbling block preventing them from coming to faith in Christ. It may also be for someone who has experienced suffering, but I would urge caution. Those who are grieving do not need more books to read. They need your presence.

Disclosure: The publisher, NavPress, provided me a copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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