I watched my brother die.
He was one of the strongest men I knew in my life and there he was struggling to take his last breaths. A brain tumor discovered six weeks earlier was now completing its fatal work. In a small hospital room, my brother passed away surrounded by our parents, his wife, his four kids, and mother-in-law. He and his wife are members of the church I pastor, so there I was mourning as brother and pastor. One nephew stayed by his side the whole time, weeping and holding his hand. My oldest nephew was in and out, feeling responsible to watch the youngest two children. When the time came, they all were there at his side. We prayed. We read Scripture. We sang. We said our good-byes.
And then we planned services. I officiated over his memorial service and declared the hope of the gospel to the best of my ability. In some ways, it is easy to speak upon the hope we have when the loved one who has passed was a devoted believer. And my brother, Aaron, was that. He had given so much of his life to proclaim the gospel to teenagers. He had served the ministry of Young Life for around 20 years. He served faithfully at church and he led his family in following the Lord. But of course, in many ways it is never easy, especially when the departed is a loved one of your own. Many people voiced if I could get through the service, and it was hard, but we all got through it.
And now a few months after, it is still surreal. His birthday came and it was even harder and now Thanksgiving has come and gone, and it seems to have gotten harder. Grief comes in waves, one moment it all seems fine and then the next I can’t see because of the tears. Sometimes I expect to see him, to have him help me with a project on my house, to walk through the door at my parents, or to ask to take my son rock climbing.
Doubt can grow in times of hardship. This can be a very real concern, one which I have for my nephews and nieces. I pray they never doubt that God is there and never doubt his goodness. I have been asked if I have experienced doubt in the midst of my own grief and I can honestly say I haven’t. I haven’t doubted God being real or doubted His love and goodness. For that I am thankful.
But I have sat in confusion. It is the confusion of not understanding. It is the confusion of not being able to grasp how my brother’s death brings God glory. It is the confusion of the created not being able to fathom the infinite. I truly don’t understand why God allows and ordains such things.
It is right there that faith reigns. For I don’t know the “why” but I do know the “who.” Elisabeth Elliot said it like this, “Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.” This is the essence of what we see again and again stated in the Bible, like in Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” We can live with this verse only through faith, not understanding how all the events in our life speak the truth of this verse, but trusting the one who is working.
When my brother passed I was reading through J.I. Packer’s Knowing God with one of my church members. Packer has a statement that says, “Every single thing that happens to us expresses God’s love for us, and comes to us for the furthering of God’s purposes for us.” To read this while my family was grieving was hard. But it is true. Faith demands we see beyond the pain of the moment to the One who loves us, who gave His Son for us, and who will wipe every tear away. A faith in Jesus Christ is an eye lifting faith, lifting our eyes to the One who stands above.
Faith doesn’t stop the confusion, but it does direct our hearts to the One who reigns in a seemingly confusing life. Faith allows us to question while we trust. Faith allows us to weep while we rejoice that a believer is now with the Lord. Faith allows us to take that step the next day, mourning our loved one but continuing to live.
So I lift my eyes up… to behold our Almighty Father. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2