March 23, 2011

When Loss is Gain

Loss is a part of life—the hardest part—and it starts early. I will never forget the grief that my husband, Dane, experienced when he accidentally stepped on and killed our daughter Gina’s kitten when she was a child. I will never forget the grief of a loving Christian parent who lost one of his two children when he accidentally backed his car over them. As a health educator, I have heard heartbreaking tales of childhood abuse as well as wrecked lives from self-abuse. Today my own children are enduring a storm of grief at the loss of their precious father, and I share their grief at the loss of my companion and ministry partner of 32 years. It is impossible to make sense of many terrible losses. One author wrote: “God marks across some of our days, ‘Will explain later.’ ”
Have you faced, or are you facing, a series of significant losses in your life? Loss always causes a degree of grief, or at least disappointment, and covers a spectrum that ranges from that ugly dent you put in your new car to the devastating death of a loved one. Whether it’s death, a disabling injury, the loss of property, security, health, friends, or a job—loss can make you feel like there’s a bull’s-eye on your back with no place to hide.
Facing Loss
To the atheist, agnostic, or person who sees God as an absentee landlord, there is no assurance of divine love, comfort, or guidance. To the person who believes that God will never let bad things happen to people who live right, feelings of betrayal and bitterness can fester and finally destroy faith and trust in divine power. The Bible teaches plainly that “in the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).1
2011 1509 page22Jesus never sought to create a glossy picture of the Christian’s sojourn on this earth. “When Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world” at the Last Supper, He explained to His anxious disciples, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this” (John 13:1, 7). It’s the “after this” part that is filled with significance and shines the light of hope into the heart of those whose hearts are shadowed by grief and loss.
The time spent here is the Christian’s winter. Here the chilly winds of affliction blow upon us, and the waves of trouble roll against us. But in the near future, when Christ comes, sorrow and sighing will be forever ended. Then will be the Christian’s summer. All trials will be over, and there will be no more sickness or death. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4, KJV).
Grief happens, but over time so can strength, courage, and even joy. Notice the progression from grief to joy in this statement by Ellen White:
 “Into the experience of all there come times of keen disappointment and utter discouragement—days when sorrow is the portion, and it is hard to believe that God is still the kind benefactor of His earthborn children; days when troubles harass the soul, till death seems preferable to life. It is then that many lose their hold on God and are brought into the slavery of doubt, the bondage of unbelief. Could we at such times discern with spiritual insight the meaning of God’s providences we should see angels seeking to save us from ourselves, striving to plant our feet upon a foundation more firm than the everlasting hills, and new faith, new life, would spring into being.”2
When trials hit like a tornado, God’s angels seek to save the believing child of God from utter, hopeless, reckless, relentless, unremitting grief.
Promised Deliverance
The Bible promises deliverance out of all our afflictions, not just some of them. Sometimes deliverance comes in the form of overt miracles, such as when the children of Israel faced their demise at the hand of Pharaoh, with the sword behind them and the Red Sea before them. Sometimes the deliverance comes in the form of providential leading, as when Paul described how he was “let down in a basket through a window in the wall” (2 Cor. 11:33) escaping a plot by evil men to destroy him.
Then there are those deliverances that are mysterious. In his last letter Paul boasted, “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18). Yet he was beheaded days later, his body cast aside, and his head tossed into the grave after him. Was he, after all, “delivered”? Absolutely. He was snatched away from Satan and the evil world that surrounded him, and his ministry was made more potent by his death. The devil could not win.
Paul joined the ranks of the faithful, triumphant, delivered saints listed in Hebrews 11 who “were tortured. . . . Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:35-38).
Gaining Through Loss
Paul’s loss was his gain, and it can be ours, too. Paul understood loss. He suffered many losses. He lost position, power, prestige, and a big paycheck. He was whipped, stoned, robbed, shipwrecked, and slandered, and he labored for his church family “in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor. 11:27). He mentions unnamed “other things” along with the mental strain of “deep concern for all the churches.” He boasts no human endurance: “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” (verses 28, 29).
Paul’s strength came because his attention was riveted on His Savior, not his reverses. Did he suffer? Yes. But Paul’s life was filled with a strength, joy, purpose, energy, and determination (in spite of grinding toil and looming grief) that come only from a close connection with the Source of all heaven’s gifts—Jesus Christ. In confidence Paul declared: “I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
Christ is the God of comfort, wisdom, justice, strength, power, and mercy. Who doesn’t need that kind of healing balm? We all do, and it is through the valley of suffering that the ministry of consolation is born in the hearts of believers. It was through suffering that Jesus obtained the ministry of consolation. In all the affliction of humanity He is afflicted, and “in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). In this ministry every soul that has entered into the fellowship of His sufferings is privileged to share. “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (2 Cor. 1:5).
The Lord has special grace for the mourner, and its power is to melt hearts and to win souls. His love opens a channel into the wounded and bruised soul, and becomes a healing balm to those who sorrow. As Martin Luther said between groans as he lay on his sickbed: “These pains and troubles here are like the type that printers set. When we look at them, we see them backwards, and they seem to make no sense and have no meaning. But up there, when the Lord God prints out our life to come, we will find they make splendid reading.”
1 Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 Prophets and Kings, p. 162
Vicki Griffin, M.S., M.P.A, M.A.C.N., is director of Health Ministries for the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and director of the Lifestyles Matter health intervention series. This article was published March 24, 2011.