If you read this blog regularly, you will see that I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently contemplating what God teaches us through our children, and particularly what He teaches us in respect to His relationship with us. I have considered His unconditional love mirrored in the love a parent has for a newborn baby; I’ve reflected on some of the lessons learnt through the patience and times of frustration involved in maintaining consistent discipline. I’ve also celebrated some of His tenderness towards us as we make feeble efforts to step out in faith. Now, I want to think of something even more amazing than any of those things. He sent His own Son Jesus Christ to die for us.
We need to take great care never to become blasé to some of the truths contained in the Bible. Especially if we have been raised in Christian homes, or it has been many years since we came to believe these truths for ourselves, we can become almost over-familiar with some of the more amazing and powerful messages contained therein. I think one of these is the fact that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3 verse 16) Most Christians know that verse inside out and backwards. But do they really know what it means? Do they really stop to think about that? Can we possibly understand it fully?
Several years ago, I was confronted with this truth in a new and powerful way. We had been blessed with a baby daughter, and it was a wonderful time. We often reflected on Psalm 139, how God makes each of us ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ and how ‘all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ I was amazed by the overwhelming love I felt for her; I had never considered myself particularly maternal, and had not had a good experience with my own parents, so I had been fearful that I might not ‘bond’ well, or that I might otherwise struggle. Instead, I felt as though I had just come alive. Life was new and fresh and exciting. I felt a renewed hope and zeal, and I praised God wholeheartedly for His incredible gift to us. Nine weeks later, her heart stopped for reasons which never became clear. Although we were able to re-start it (another story for another time), she had severe brain damage and died without leaving hospital six weeks later. I remember the deep, heart-wrenching sorrow; it literally felt as though a part of me had been ripped out and discarded. Even now, it as though a part of me died that day, and that fresh, unclouded hope has never fully returned. I do not doubt God’s goodness, His purposes, His provision and His blessings to us; in fact heaven seems so much more real now, and I feel acutely aware that this world is fading away yet heaven is where we will spend eternity. But the pain was real, and if you were to ask me what I would have given to have prevented her death (had that been at all possible), I would have given everything I had. I would never have chosen for her to die. I certainly would not have chosen for her to die in order to rescue people who hated us! But think about it. That’s what God did.
‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.’ (1 John 4 verse 9) ‘And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Corinthians 5 verse 15) God knew that there was no other way, and so offered the very best thing that He had – His only son – to die in sacrifice for our sins. Can we actually understand that? I don’t think we can, not here and now, not in this life. ‘For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’ (1 Corinthians 13 verse 12) John 15 verse 13 says it simply, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reflects on how ‘for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5 verse 7-8).
I was not a perfect parent, nor was my daughter a sinless child. Yet if the sorrow I felt when she died is even a glimpse of what God willingly endured in sending Jesus to die for us, then I can only marvel and praise Him all the more! I know people who consider that the death of a child must be one of the most difficult trials to endure; I would tend to disagree, although much will depend on the circumstances, and I am aware that we were borne up by a supernatural grace, strength and peace that can only have come from God. But people do think of the death of a child in these terms. Conversely, do we forget that our human emotions are part of us having been made ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1 verse 27)? Do we forget just what it cost God to send Jesus for us? And do we forget that He considered us worth that price?