a year of morning thanks
An old note of grief (vii)
Feels like a sermon almost. It starts with something of an anecdote meant to convey sincere sympathy ("Mrs. Schaap burst out in tears when I told her what had happened at your place"), then affirms the family in the bond of their mutual loss by bringing up "our own Agnes, of about the same age," then moves into consolation with a fairly long confession of faith ("God is a covenant God. . .who has said that He would be your God. . ."), then attempts the difficult job of answering the doubt both Grandpa and Grandma must have felt themselves when their daughter died.
And now, this precious note moves smoothly into benediction: "May you believe the truth of the text that I had New Year's morning in Rom. 8:31-32."
I should have guessed that an old Calvinist like Grandpa Schaap would try to draw the grieving back to Romans 8, just as he must have been drawn back himself in his own grief: "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"
It's an either/or proposition that would have been difficult for God-fearing people to doubt: if He is on our side, there can be no opposition. And, there's always the consolation that even if most of those around us don't seem understand what it is we've felt at the loss of our baby, God does. He suffered, after all, the very same loss.
That those two verses carried deep currency with my grandfather is suggested by the date of the letter--April 8, 1918. Do the math. He must have preached twenty-some sermons since New Years morning, explored twenty-some passages during weekly preparations. He had to have been much more fresh on many far more recent passages, but the one he included in what feels like the letter's own benediction is one he remembered preaching on four months before on New Years Day--Romans 8: 31-32.
I don't know what Grandpa Schaap would have said if I suggest it must been some kind of favorite; I'm not always taken by the language of having a "favorite bible passage." But it's clear to me, some four months after his study of that passage and just a few years after the loss of his own daughter, that the choice of those verses clearly suggests how important they had to have been--and still were--especially to the region of his soul that still ached. All of that makes sense.
There's a bit more to this benediction: "May the God of Comfort give you through his H. Spirit what you may be in need of in this hours of tribulation," he writes.
His grandson, the English teacher, has spotted a couple of errors in this little note, but I think it's telling that he so unnecessarily puts Comfort in upper case. Having grown up in the same theological world, I'm quite sure I know why: it's because he--and the grieving parents he was addressing--held a particular poetic line at nearly the same level of awe as the Word itself, that line from the first q and a of the Heidelberg Catechism:
What is your only comfort in life and death?
with body and soul,
both in life and death,
am not my own,
but belong unto my faithful Saviour
Jesus Christ;. . ."
That he would point the family in the direction of the catechism's first and most famous assertion is not at all surprising either.
But, even though the benediction has been sounded, there's still more to the note.