This morning at breakfast a verse from the bible came to my mind from apparently nowhere. It was written by a man whose faith was in danger of failing and who simply could not make sense of the unfairness of life and why the God he worshiped did not intervene. He was broken and confused – questioning the fairness and goodness of God. In fact he came to the point of regarding his faith as a waste of time and energy – and considered leaving it behind all together.
As I thought about his turmoil, confusion and doubt my mind turned to the many in my community who, at this very moment, are struggling with grief and perhaps many questions.
As some of you may know, in the last few weeks, 10 people living in a Care Home in Portree, the largest village in north Skye, and a few miles from my home, have died as a result of the Corona Virus. Some were friends and two attended the church I helped lead at one point. In a place where most people know one another and many have been lifelong friends and neighbours, ours is a community in grief.
Asaph, the man to whom I refer, was not only a believer in God, a man of faith – but also a worship leader and songwriter in his day and generation. After pouring out his complaint to God, which by the way is not a bad thing, the opposite perhaps, he eventually comes to the place where he says, and it is the verse that came to me this morning –
“My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.”
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray – the first words he asks them to repeat are these – “Our Father in heaven …”. There is a world of meaning and reality in these four words. God is Father. I have written much elsewhere on this wonderful subject and will not repeat it here – but hold it in you mind for a moment. Secondly he is in heaven. The term Father speaks of God’s eternal love and compassion while the contrasting term “in heaven” speaks, I believe, of his transcendent power. In other words he is not only a loving, gracious and kind father – but also a powerful father who holds the world in his hands! So in our grief we have a Father of love, compassion, mercy and grace – and a Father of power who can sustain us in our hour of sorrow and grief.
We also have a God who knows how it feels to suffer (see – Suffering Father) – one who is not only sympathetic to our grief in a detached way – but one who has gone through what we go through.
The last thing I want to do here is attempt to minimise the grief of my friends and neighbours by giving simple, pat answers – that is not helpful even if it were possible. But having myself faced grief – I can testify with Asaph to the fact that God is indeed the strength of my heart – and, I believe, my portion forever. In that I hope – in that I rest my soul. My prayer for my grieving friends in these days is for this comfort and hope to be theirs.
Our fellow-sufferer yet retains
a fellow-feeling of our pains;
and still remembers in the skies
his tears, his agonies and cries.
In every pang that rends the heart
the Man of Sorrows has a part;
he sympathises with our grief,
and to the sufferer sends relief.
With boldness, therefore, at the throne,
let us make all our sorrows known;
and ask the aid of heavenly power
to help us in the evil hour.