My mum’s phone rang as she dropped me off at the station on a sunny August day. Freddie and I had enjoyed a lovely holiday visiting various family and friends. But the news on the phone snatched our joy away – one of my mum’s closest friends had died. It wasn’t an unexpected phone call, but still a difficult one. A month away from my church family had left me vulnerable. Horrified tears pricked my eyes and I spent the train journey home getting angry with God:
‘But she’s too young.’
‘But her children are the same age as me and bringing up young children like me. How can they do that without their own mother?’
‘But she’s the same age as my mum – that means my mum is getting older and might die soon too.’
It felt good to rant – for a bit.
The thing about getting angry with God is that you never really move forward within that place of anger. You can absolutely move out of it and into the freedom Jesus has won for you, but within it there isn’t anywhere you can go… because God is already feeling what you’re feeling. I’ve recently been reading through the gospels, and I’ve been struck that God is not the remote adversary that I painted him to be on the day of the phone call. The God of the Bible is Emmanuel, God with us, the God who came to an earth ravaged by our bad choices in order to experience every trauma we do. The shortest verse in the whole Bible, ‘Jesus wept’, describes Jesus’ reaction when his friend Lazarus died. His reaction is a human one, the same as mine, and the same as anyone else who has ever grieved someone.
That day, I was asking God how this suffering could possibly be his will. But I wonder if the reason this situation was so hard was because God’s will wasn’t being done. I was accusing God of having abandoned people I care about – but Jesus was abandoned on the cross so we would never have to be.
And do you know what else? Like an editor, I cut out certain parts of this story as I told it to God that day. I didn’t talk to him about what an amazing lady this was, or how blessed my mum was by the friendship. I didn’t thank him for the forty(!) years of friendship they enjoyed, from university digs to grandparenthood. I didn’t mention that my mum’s tales of student life with this lady partly influenced my own choice of Durham as a university, nor that I made life-giving friendships of my own there, including with the man who is now my husband! I didn’t mention the scrapbooks this lady made for each of her grandchildren before she died, or the precious day she spent with my mum right at the end. I didn’t mention how inspiring it was that these two friends were completely FOR each other, were on each other’s side, believed in each other, cheered each other on – just like God is on our side, our defender. This lady’s life was truly a life to celebrate and thank God for!
Death and mourning are things which God plans to one day put an end to. Until the day of Jesus’ return, we will experience pain and sorrow over the deaths of our loved ones. But he will be right here feeling it with us.
2 Corinthians 4:7-9 ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.’