Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

a year of morning thanks

An old note of sympathy (v)

"But what should comfort you now, is the comforting fact that God is a covenant God (Verbonds God), who has said that He would be your God and the God of your children."

Now things get delicate. Sitting there at the table, the Reverend Schaap has written a page and a half of empathy wrung from their own shared experience. Both the letter writer and recipient lost children.

A century ago, however, it was assumed that a preacher would do more than sympathize; he was, after all, the dominie, and his words carried authority second only to scripture itself. Dominie Schaap could not simply say, "I feel your pain." The grieving family would have expected the preacher at least to point the way out of their profound grief, and he does, by the way of what Dutch Calvinists used to call "covenant theology."

Honestly, I can't know what that family was going through, just as I can't know how deeply my own grandparents' grief still manifest itself in their souls. For that reason, it's likely a ton easier for me to say this than it would have been for them, but I don't find my Grandpa's words as reassuring as he would have meant them to be, largely because God's promise of care ("He would be your God and the God of your children") has just been painfully broken anyway; if he had been, in fact, "the God of your children," would he have let that little six-year-old succumb to scarlet fever?--would he let that child die?

The remedy for their painful grief is God's promises--that's what my Grandfather is saying, even though those very promises had to have been what they held onto during that child's own last hours. They had to have been pleading with God for their son's life, on the basis of those very promises.

And now we've arrived at the most difficult question believers ever face: if God both loves and rules this world, how is it that we suffer as immensely as we do? God loves us, right?--now explain the Holocaust, Rwanda, the killing fields, the death of my aunt in a car accident. To such profound questions, there are no simple answers.

I don't think Grandpa would have asked for our pity or sympathy, but we've come to the moment in this letter when he knows he must offer resolution, offer a means by which to put this immense pain behind them; and I do feel sorry for Grandpa because I believe there are no good answers.

What did he believe? How did he square the loss of a child--of his own daughter--with the sovereign love of God? I may be reading too much into it, but I think the answer is here, in the letter, for better or for worse.

There's more to come.

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