"For I Know the Plans I Have for You..."

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

John George Brown, "Waiting for William," 1879

It has been about a month and half since our daughter was taken from us - the second this year. We have both been at the graveside before, and we have both known various tragedies and disappointments, but this has been the most difficult time of our lives.

Christabel has already provided a detailed account of the process itself, as well as her attempts to explain her experience of this horrific process, so I won't get into much of that here. If you have not read her posts, I'd encourage you to do so with a box of tissues nearby: Goodnight, Sweethearts Beauty in the Sorrow

My intent for this post is to provide a few thoughts on how I've been theologically processing this heartache. I'm still a tempest of thoughts and emotions, so I'll likely end up writing a few more posts to address different facets of this process.


Public Grief

On August 18, I shared the news of our loss on Twitter with a short tweet asking for prayer, and especially so for Christabel. I expected a few responses from my relatively small band of twitter followers, but within a couple days the post was shared nearly 15k times and has now been viewed by nearly 12 million people. I had to turn off my cellular data as supportive comments poured in from all kinds of people - including laity, pastors, Catholic and Orthodox priests, nuns, celebrities, Muslims, atheists, fortune tellers, exotic dancers, and many others (Twitter is a strange place). I'm a fairly private person, so I originally did not intend to be public about my grief beyond that initial tweet, but it was obvious that this struck a deeply human nerve. As a society, we don't tend to deal well with grief. Often, we avoid it, either through medication (which I do believe can have its place in certain circumstances) or environmental blinders. I actually had a few well-intended voices telling me that we needed to get rid of, or at least hide, all baby things so we wouldn't think about our loss. While I appreciate that others would desire that we not be sad, and perhaps for some this is the right move for a time, avoidance is not a healthy strategy. To be honest, I have actually found our nursery to be one of my favorite places, but I'll say more about that another time. If we don't avoid our grief, we often suffer silently. We withdraw from the world, including from those who love us the most. We convince ourselves that, because nobody else truly knows how we feel, it is impossible to maintain relationships with anyone anymore. We retreat from life. In any case, Christabel and I quickly came to the conclusion that our grief is meant to be a ministry of some kind. I took my first steps in this direction by continuing to be public about my very real tears and my very real Christian faith. This led many of my new followers, both Christian and atheist/agnostic, to ask how I hold these things together. How can I believe that God is good, loving, and sovereign while dealing with the reality of a second miscarriage in one year, still with no child to raise?


"For I know the plans I have for you..."

I can understand the struggle with theodicy (the so-called problem of evil) coming from the non-Christian who doesn't understand the faith. For the Christian, however, I find it somewhat puzzling.

Jesus Christ, the sinless founder and perfecter of our faith, was betrayed, falsely accused, tortured, and crucified. This is at the center of our faith. Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him. Our symbol is the cross. Scripture tells again and again that we will suffer. Why do we fail to actually believe that? Why does our faith crumble when we suffer, as if something unexpected is happening? If anything, our suffering is confirmation of what the Christian faith tells us.

If we're honest, we think suffering is for Christ, for the early church, and for Christians in foreign lands that are violently hostile to Christianity. But a comfortable 21st century American Christian? Surely we are entitled to our vision of what our lives should look like. After all, our life verse is Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." This is in our twitter bios, on our coffee cups, and featured in our instagrammed devotions. Maybe we've encountered some disappointments, but this verse means that as long as we vote for God, he will make our wildest dreams come true, right?

Let's get some context.

When God spoke these words to Judah, they were in Babylonian captivity. The specific hope and future planned for this community was that they would be brought back into the land of Israel and against worship God in the Temple of Zion ... after 70 years. In the meantime, for the entire lives of most of this first audience, they would continue to toil under oppression. Although you and I are in a very different situation than this first audience, I believe the heart of Jeremiah 29:11 very much applies to us today. This verse affirmed that, despite the present heartache - the lost loved ones, the broken dreams, the grueling day-to-day - God was devoted to the good of His people. The people of God were still the people of God and they had a future in the Promised Land in fellowship with God. This promise was a shadow of the greater reality of Christ, the promised perfect union between God and His people.

As Christians, we have a hope and a future. We experience this future in the present with the hope of its fulfillment in glory. In the meantime, we still suffer. Our children die. We get sick. We feel pain. Injustice often seems to reign while the righteous are punished for their good name. When we receive these things in faith, we recognize that all suffering has a place in the wounds of Christ, which are used to redeem every sorrow for joy. There is no resurrection without the crucifixion. So too, we have no glory without pain. Am I happy our children died? No, but my sorrow reminds me that I am hidden in Christ and I can rest assured that, as surely as he rose from the dead, my good, as well as the good of our children, is secured. Will we ever have children to raise? I certainly pray that we do, but such things are not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is the restoring and glorifying love of God in Christ. I can't emphasize enough that Christian joy and sorrow are intertwined. I don't want anyone to think that I'm "okay" with losing our children. I suppose I'm okay with it at the deepest level, but I still cry. With deep sorrow and, to be honest, sometimes anger, I still ask God why this happened, even though I can, to a degree, provide a theological answer.

[I thought of trying to rework that choppy sentence, but I believe the cadence is appropriate here.]

This is devastating, but certainly no more so than the Son of God asking why the Father had forsaken him. There is so much mystery wrapped up in this scene, but it is enough to know that our Christ identifies with us on the deepest level of human tragedy and that, somehow, this enables us to identify with the glory of God.

I want to end this post with some lyrics from Caedmon's Call's "Table for Two," a song that has had special resonance with my soul for many years.

Well this day's been crazy But everything's happened on schedule From the rain and the cold To the drink that I spilled on my shirt 'Cause You knew how You'd save me Before I fell dead in the garden And You knew this day Long before You made me out of dirt

And You know the plans that You have for me And You can't plan the end and not plan the means And so I suppose I just need some peace Just to get me to sleep


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