My husband and I recently began hosting Respite Retreats, weekend retreats at which we bring together a dozen couples who have faced the loss of a child. Over the weekend we provide a safe place for these couples to share their sorrow with others who understand, and we bring the truth of God to bear on what seems unbearable.
The question that haunts most of those who come—in fact most people who experience significant suffering and loss—is, “why?” There is a deep need to be able to determine and articulate the “good” that God has brought or intends to bring out of our loss. For many, until we can identify God’s purpose, it is nearly impossible to believe that he has one or that it is good—at least good enough to balance out our own pain.
Many find the purpose they are looking for in being able to name someone who came to Christ because of their child’s life or death. And certainly God is good to give us glimpses of how he is using our losses for his good purposes in this world in such ways. But ultimately, trusting God with our losses, trusting him to work them together for good is, like everything else, a matter of faith.
The writer to the Hebrews says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and confident in what we cannot see with our eyes. So faith, in the face of significant loss and sorrow, is believing that God can and will use our loss for good, even if we never see it with our eyes or can never explain or define it to our full satisfaction.
Suffering is the most acute trial that faith can face, and the questions it raises are the sharpest, the most insistent, and the most damaging that faith will meet. Can faith bear the pain and still trust God, suspending judgment and resting in the knowledge that God is there, God is good, and God knows best? Or will the pain be so great that only meaning will make it endurable so that reason must be pressed further and further and judgments must be made? To suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is worst of all. Yet that is the suicidal submission that faith’s suspension of judgment seems to involve. If the Christian’s faith is to be itself and let God be God at such times, it must suspend judgment and say, “Father, I do not understand you, but I trust you.”
At a recent Respite Retreat, one of the participants said, “It comes down to this: Am I willing to trust God with this or not.” And the truth is, this is not just the case for grieving parents. The Christian life is not about the one time we trusted God for something we cannot see—that he will make good on his promise to make us his own for eternity. The Christian life is about an on-going trust and reliance on the promises of God, believing that the day is coming when faith will no longer be needed because our faith will have become sight.