Handling The Death of Innocents

[this message was given at the Children of the Heart Remembrance Ceremony, Dec 4, 2016, Glendale YMCA, Arizona]

I suspect that most of you here would agree with me that when there’s a death of an infant, it just seems that the universe is out of sync. Right? That something just does not seem right when there is a death of an innocent.  It seems that something is very wrong about an innocent child who is about to begin an adventurous life and then that life is cut short through abnormal genetics, accidents, or illness.

Don’t these situations shock our equilibrium?  It goes against everything we see life supposed to be.  And I now that to some of you here, the death of innocents may even seem like shear evil.

After a death of someone very close to him, C S Lewis wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain” Lewis states that pain is used by God as a “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (Lewis, Problem of Pain p. 91)

The pain of loss, the pain of grieving, the pain of not be able to parent and raise your child…that is emotionally and spiritually overwhelming.

You may be in a dark spiritual place right now. No one would blame you. If not you, maybe a friend or family member is in spiritual or moral distress.  You might be asking yourself, “What does one do?  Why this? Why MY baby?  What do I do to make meaning of all of this?  How can I go on with life?”

Some Theology for Hope

While we may not know the meaning of why innocents have to die, I do want to briefly share with you some faith principles which can give you hope.

The first principle is that innocents are just that, INNOCENT. They are innocent before their Creator and therefore, when they pass away, they are in God’s presence. Let me repeat that:  your child is in the presence of God.  The length of your child’s life while brief in our earthly standards was virtually indistinguishable from the length ours will be from God’s eternal perspective. As scripture states, “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) Please understand that your child’s life was just as valued and precious to God as your life is.

A second principle is to know that your child is happier today than the happiest person on earth has ever been. Being in God’s glorious presence with pleasures evermore greatly outweighs what is here on earth (John Piper, Funeral Meditations for Owen). Your child is in heaven, with God, and is gloriously happy!

And a third principle I’d like to share with you, and for you to really hang on to… is that your child was a divine gift to you. The Lord ordained life and gave you your child. And Yes, your child was taken away too soon, but that does not change the fact that your child was and still are, a gift to you and your family.  You conceived your child. You still have your child – “not in your arms but in your memory; not in your home but in your heart; not on earth but in heaven.” (John Piper, Funeral Meditations for Owen)

Always remember that your child was created by God, is highly valued by God and now is safe and happy in God’s presence.

Emotions

But even knowing and understanding these faith principles, I know your grief still exists. Your loss strikes you at the core of your soul which dredges up a host of emotions.  Emotions of agitation, anxiety, anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness, depression, fear, shame, and maybe even some guilt.

Why do you believe these emotions hurt so much? These emotions are normal reactions to an abnormal event, a major crisis in your life. These are normal thoughts and normal emotions about the situation which happened to you and your baby.  The irony of love is that the more we are capable of loving, the more hurt and grief there is when that person is gone from us. You would probably agree that you were created for relationships, but it becomes deeply emotional and painful when your relationships are torn away.

But One person asked me this once, “How can I use these emotions for good?”

For me, as a minister in the Christian faith, I believe in an all-powerful Creator God, who is a life-breathing, star-speaking, Universe Creator. But also my God can be very personal and all-knowing. A God who knows our every need, our every hurt, our joy, our frustrations and our sorrow.

And my God can be a comforting friend in times of great need. Maybe that’s what you are in great need of right now? A divine friend who cares for you, who listens and understands your hurts, but a God who also is a great comforting peace giver for a deeply aching heart.

Please know that God does react to our suffering. God does not delight in our suffering, but He weeps with us in our pain and grief (John 11). Your suffering will be not in vain. Through this journey that you’re on right now, your pain can allow you to see the world differently, maybe even live life with a whole new perspective, meaning and purpose.

There’s an Ancient story (2 Samuel 12:15-23) about a couple who had an infant who got severely ill. You can imagine the angst and helplessness the couple felt.  You have been there yourself. The couple possessed a deep spiritual faith. They prayed and prayed for their Creator to work a miracle, but over time the child’s illness lingered and their baby died. I can imagine that this couple felt the same any other couple would feel… a great deal of sorrow, grief, frustration – maybe even guilt of “did we do enough for our child?  Was our faith not great enough for God to respond?  maybe even pleas of Why God, Why?”   This couple grieved like anyone else does. This couple grieved just like you are grieving.

But after a while the baby’s father emerged from his isolation of grief. He cleaned himself up and he began to re-orient himself back into a normal schedule with the rest of his family, his friends and his work. I’m sure he thought life would not ever be the same, and we would agree with him.  But through his actions, we can see that there had been time for this parent to pray and plead to his God during his son’s illness, there was a time to appropriately grieve and then there came a time where God gave him the strength to continue remembering and honoring his son as he moved forward in life.

This couple did eventually have more children, who I would imagine the younger children heard stories from their parents about their older brother who had died.   The story goes that one of the younger sons grew up in his daddy’s footsteps and over time became a very powerful and wise leader. The name of this man’s son was Solomon and Solomon left many writings and wise sayings for us to read, ponder, receive strength from, as well as comfort for our souls. These 3,000-year-old writings stemmed from his vast experiences, but also from his own personal ups and downs of life. Solomon discovered there was a certain harshness of life and that despite our greatest efforts, true peace on this side of heaven will not be obtained unless it comes from God Himself.

As I close, please let me share a few lines by Solomon, as he reflected back upon his own life and the life of others, He discovered that there are appointed times or one might say there are seasons in our life, for everything under the sun which comes our way. Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes 3:2, 3b-4) that there is:

A time to give birth and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time for harvest.

A time to tear down and time to build up.

A time to weep and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn and a time to dance….

My prayer for each of us here today is to know that everyone we are honoring today is dancing in God’s presence… you are mourning today, but through God’s rich mercy and grace, one day you’ll be celebrating and dancing with them as well.

May our great God bless you and keep you;

Make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you

And may He lift up his countenance upon you and give you PEACE. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.

  • Chaplain Keith Evans
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Qoheleth’s Quest: Discovering the Meaning of Life

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14: 2:18-23

1:2  “Vanity of Vanities says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

1:12-14 “I, the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.”

2:18-23 “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.”

——-

The middle section of the bible is often called the Wisdom section. It is comprised of the Books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.

  • In the Book of Job, the reader learns how to suffer well.
  • In the Book of Psalms, the reader learns how to worship well.
  • In Proverbs, the reader discovers how to use knowledge well.
  • In the Song of Solomon, the reader is shown how to love and have relationships well.
  • in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the reader discovers how to live a well-lived life.

Except for the book of Job, Solomon had a part of writing each of the wisdom books. If there were ever a man who could find meaning outside of God, it would be King Solomon. In terms of intelligence, industry, and accomplishments, it would seem reasonable to assume that Solomon had it all. He was the son of King David. He was raised in a palace with everything he desired at his fingertips for the taking. Solomon enjoyed the best education, the best training, by the best teachers available. Solomon then used these gifts to accumulate vast wealth, discover incredible knowledge and wisdom, and experience pleasure of all kinds. And he didn’t do any of this in moderate, but to extreme excess. If Solomon couldn’t discover the secret and meaning to life, who really can?  (Nelson, 3).

Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon earlier in his adult life, reflecting upon his first love Naaman. He wrote Ecclesiastes in his elder years, as reflections of a man who played the fool, who had it all and lost it all, and then discovered what was worth having anyway.  One writer on Solomon asserts,

In Ecclesiastes, the covenant name of God, Yahweh, is never used. Instead, Solomon

refers to God euphemistically by other references and names. Some scholars believe

that this book is written with the nonbeliever in mind. Ecclesiastes addresses someone

 who has sincere questions about life and the nature of God. It’s a book to the nations,

and it is certainly a book for our generation” and current times.  (Nelson, 3-4)

In Hebrew, the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes is called Qoheleth, or the Preacher. Solomon is not just a philosopher in the sense of a thinker, he takes on the role of God’s spokesman to herald what the truth is. Author and Pastor Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church states that if the world’s view of wisdom is personified by Rodin’s “The Thinker”, then biblical wisdom is personified in Solomon as “Qoheleth, the Preacher.”  That’s a great analogy!  But Solomon is not like so many modern philosophers who only pontificate about what might be true; instead Solomon tells us the facts of life. These facts instruct us who we can choose to live even when faced with continual disappointment, and yet still be fulfilled personally and spiritually.

Solomon uses a sequential approach to the writings and systematically works through all of our human attempts to find meaning and purpose in life. Solomon starts Ecclesiastes by describing his efforts at intellectualism, then he works through his pursuit of hedonism for meaning and life satisfaction, Finally, he examines materialism, greed and what really has his opulent wealth and vast empire given him?

In Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth examines the best thoughts of men and then shows us why they won’t work. He proves that in and of themselves, these ideas cannot truly satisfy and ultimately bring happiness and meaning to man in his human condition. In contrast to pagan naturalism where all that man does is good, Qoheleth discerns that there is nothing in man that is good. Qoheleth discovers that individuals have to go outside of their selves to find something that is infinite good and whole.  In the end, by Solomon’s witness, humanity has to look to God.

But even for believers in a monotheistic God, Solomon is realistic and talks about life having much inequality and struggles. Life with God can be as troubling and problematic as life is with atheists.  But life with God can give humanity hope that man is not alone and that there is someone greater and Divine who is at the wheel, guiding and leading us as we live each day.

In essence, Ecclesiastes is a written narrative of Qoheleth’s quest is in discovering what is his worldview. Since the Garden of Eden, humanity has wanted to become God, to change the order of not only being the created – but to become the Creator.  This is the same battle which Solomon fought with all his materialism, hedonism and intellectualism, he still experienced a lack of meaning and purpose in his life. This the same battle each of us face, whether we realize it or not!

We each have a worldview. It colors everything at which we look. There is a distinctive Christian worldview that is uniquely Christian way to think and act. The tragedy is that research from the Barna Group reveals that only 8% of evangelical Christians have a Christian worldview.  The Christian worldview stands for absolutism in a world of relativism; supernaturalism over and against naturalism, and exclusivism in face of growing religious pluralism. (Phillips, vii)

Worldviews are not the same as formal philosophy. All people have a set of convictions about how reality functions and how they should each live. A worldview is “the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world and is the basis of our decisions and actions” (Phillips, 8).  Your worldview is your blueprint, or map, for reality – to help you explain and interpret life and the world, but also it is a starting point which you apply your view to life through your decisions and actions.

Did you realize that each of us struggle, knowingly or unknowingly with ‘ultimate questions’ of life? These are questions, such as:

  • Why am I living?
  • What is the cause of my existence and that of everyone else?
  • Why do I exist?
  • Why is there a division of good and evil within me?
  • How must I live?
  • What is death – how can I save myself? (Phillips, p.9)

Theses ultimate questions speak our Origins, Meaning, Morality, Destiny, Identity. The answers we embrace to these ultimate questions (consciously or subconsciously) shape our assumptions about God, humanity, and nature. I believe that each of us also struggle the same way that King Solomon struggled with these same types of ultimate questions of life.

John Stonestreet of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview says that you don’t really have a worldview, it’s more like a worldview has you! (Colson Fellow Webinar, 2016)

Have you realistically sat down and analyzed that influencing your thinking? Movies? books? I’d like to unpack for you three basic worldview categories as related by Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet in their text Making Sense of Your World. There are subsets to these worldviews, but I’ll just speak to three broad categories:  Naturalism, Transcendentalism and Theism.

NATURALISM

If a person holds to the worldview of naturalism – they view the world as they see it. For them, the physical universe is all there is. There is nothing beyond or separate from that which they can see, touch, and/or measure. Matter and energy are the basic “stuff” from which all existence is derived. Such a view of reality implies that all obtainable answers for “the ultimate questions” relating to the universe and mankind can be found by the investigation of the physical world. Various ideas that stem from Naturalism are: Ideas that stem from Naturalism are: Materialism, Positivism, Secularism, Scientism, Atheism, Agnosticism.  These ideas are expressed as: Secular Humanism, Marxism/Leninism (ie. socialism), Existentialism, Nihilism and Hedonism. (Phillips, 24)

For contrast, if the Christian Bible says, “In the beginning, God…”, the naturalist mindset would want to re-word this by saying, “In the beginning, hydrogen.”  In Naturalism, the supernatural God is replaced by natural elements, so if there are no spiritual realities, then it is impossible for God to exist. For the naturalist, reality is understood only by the careful use of the scientific method, not wishful thinking (as they view Creationists and Christians).

Science had tenaciously held to a belief in God as the conclusion that the orderly physical properties of earth (i.e. gravity, etc.) served as a constant proof for an orderly God. Up until that point, “All truth was Gods truth”, and the starry heavens above blinked down God’s favor upon a grateful people.

So, what changed?  One thing that happened was Marquis de Laplace (1827) Laplace wrote essay titled, Celestial Mechanics. Leplace presented this work to Napoleon to read. To paraphrase, Napoleon responded, “You have written a large work on the universe without once mentioning its author.” Laplace replied, “But I have no need for that hypothesis.” From that point of time, a type of practical atheism began to influence the scientific community’s perspective. How can science explain life and existence without a divine Creator or an Intelligent Designer? Now, scientific methods and scientific fact became synonymous with absolute truth. Charles Darwin’s 1859 work Origin of Species added more skepticism in trying to explain the design of the universe without God as the Creator.

Also, for the naturalist, whatever promotes their happiness, self-consciousness and self-identity is considered ‘good’.  Whatever hinders happiness would be considered ‘bad.’  This has led to wide-spread ethical relativism, or situational ethics; the belief that morality depends upon the individual or situation, the ends justifies the means.

As stated above, various expressions of Naturalism are: Secular Humanism, Marxism/Leninism (ie. socialism), Existentialism, Nihilism and Hedonism. Let’s quickly discuss a few of these. Nihilism expresses that life is meaningless. It states that man’s existence and quest for purpose is pointless.  This is what King Solomon discovered about his own life 3,000 years ago. When God is excluded from the equation of life, everything is futile, meaningless and of complete vanity (Eccl 1:2; 12; 2:23).

In the expressions of Existentialism and Hedonism, the approach to life ventures to overcome the hopelessness of naturalism by creating one’s own meaning for life. Existentialist and Hedonist fill life with unending experiences of pleasure. In general, this group do not live by any guiding rules or absolute truths, but simply pursue anything that might give meaning to life. Qoheleth’s Quest did this to the extreme as well, but to no avail of any lasting life satisfaction (Eccl 2).

The last expression of Naturalism that we’ll review is Humanism. Certain naturalists choose to focus their energies on making the world a better place to live. Overcoming social injustices of poverty, disease, handicaps and other natural limitations of this life would be on the Humanist’s agenda. I would agree that all of these subjects do indeed need to be considered and helped by society as a whole. However, Humanism discards any ultimate meaning for life and places the needs of humanity as a whole at the center of all universal concerns, without a God of order, purpose and influence. Again, Qoheleth’s Quest discovered this also was meaningless and futile when life is considered outside and without God.

TRANSCENDENTALISM

The second worldview of discussion is Transcendentalism. Transcendentalism views that humanity is God. Transcendentalism sees the world as you want it to be. Ideas of Transcendentalism as seen in Pantheism, Panentheism, Polytheism, Animism, Panpsychism, New Age. Transcendentalism is described as “a melting pot of mystical and psychic movements” (Phillips, 33).  Expressions of Transcendentalism are: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hare Krishna, Baha’ism, New Age, Scientology and Wicca.

Transcendentalism promises a progression toward universal unity. And modern society is enamored with the concept of progression. Who wouldn’t like a belief that the world is ultimately moving toward global unity? That’s a much better solution than a biblical Armageddon. The most positive aspect of transcendentalism is the promise of a “New Age” of global harmony and peace. However, scholars observe, “As mankind progresses toward this unity, the shackles of theistic religions and atheistic naturalism must be removed” (Phillips, 38).

Transcendentalism replaces the theistic view of man’s depravity with a positive acclamation of man’s divinity. Such a view fits in well with an American culture that prides itself on individual determination and accomplishment. Actualizing one’s divine nature results in breakthrough experiences for individuals in their careers, health, and relationships.”   Transcendentalism views that man is God.

THEISM

The third main worldview is Theism. Theism sees the world from God’s hands. Theism can look to many gods (polytheism) or toward one god (monotheism).  We will quickly delve into the worldview of monotheism, whether the God is only distant or extremely relational, personal and engaging. Expressions of Theism are: Islam, Judaism, and Biblical Christianity.

Surveys have noted that 3/5 of our world population believes there is a personal deity.  While naturalism builds its system on the assumption that the material universe is all there is; transcendentalism assumes that all reality is of one great mind or spirit. Theism begins with the assumption that God exists. Judaism believes in one God, but not that Christ the messiah has returned.  Islam believes in one God, Allah, but this is not Christianity’s triune God that is comprised of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. One should not say that all faiths lead to heaven and to the same Creator Lord. But many do. That premise may help everyone feel good, but that is not theologically correct per the Torah, the Holy Bible, and the Qu’ran.

King Solomon’s life reflection as Qoheleth described in Ecclesiastes brings out the ways the pagan and later Greek vs. Hebrew worldviews existed in ancient times. Solomon battled against life philosophies which either included God or tried in every way to explain life without God’s existence. Qoheleth discovered that life with God was a life well-lived.

Theism holds that real things do exist beyond the physical realm; God, angels, the human soul, immortality, and the like. Christianity speak of eternal things not seen which naturalism cannot and even avoids (Genesis 1:1; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 11:1). Theism sees the created world as a work of art from the hand of the Creator. Christian Theism also delivers an indictment against man because of his personal rebellion against the truth revealed by God.

WRAPUP

The naturalistic, humanistic and transcendentalist, existential worldviews haven’t worked too well over the past four to five thousand years of recorded human history. Yet, man keeps on trying to find some secret that would ultimately replace GOD… but there always tends to be a point of reckoning. Seeking pleasure and satisfaction outside of God is meaningless.

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias recently commented, “Meaninglessness of life does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness of life come from being weary of pleasure. And that’s why we are bankrupt of meaning in a land of so much.” (RZIM)

The actor Brad Pitt “I had a crisis of faith. I thought you had to experience things if you want to know right from wrong. I’d go to Christian revivals and be moved by the Holy Spirit and I’d go to rock concerts and feel the same fervor. Then I’d be told, “That’s the Devil’s music! Don’t partake in that!’ I wanted to experience things religion said not to experience…When I got untethered from the comfort of religion, it wasn’t a loss of faith for me, it was a discover of self. I had faith that I’m capable enough to hand any situation” (Parade Magazine 2007).

Actor Shia LeBeouf stated similar feelings as Pitt.  “Sometimes I feel like I’m living a meaningless life and I get frightened…I have no idea where this insecurity comes from, but it’s a God-sized hole. If I knew, I’d fill it and I’d be on my way…I have no answers to anything.  None. Why am I an alcoholic? I haven’t a clue!  What is life about? I don’t know…. The best I can do is learn from my mistakes and move forward.  And that’s what I’m trying to do” (Heaven4Sure, Sept 2009).

These celebrities struggle just like you and I about our meaning, our purpose, about the ultimate questions of life when God is removed from life’s equation (not that you really can). But like an ostrich with its head in the sand, our culture is doing everything it can to live life ignoring God. As this is occurring, there is now a foundational shift in world thinking.

But once you find yourself, what will you do with yourself? Will you even like what you find?

The social analyst Daniel Yankelovich states, “If you feel the imperative to fill all your needs and if these needs are contradictory or in conflict with those needs which are simply unfillable, then frustration inevitably follows.” To progressive couples, “self- fulfillment means having a career and marriage and children and sexual freedom and autonomy and being liberal and having money and choosing non-conformity and insisting social justice and enjoying city life and country living and simplicity and graciousness and reading and good friends and on and on.   The individual is not fulfilled by becoming ever more autonomous, indeed to move too far in this direction is to risk psychosis, the ultimate form of autonomy!“ (Psychology Today, April 1981).

To this statement by Yankelovich, Ravi Zacharias responds, “The injunction that to find one’s self, one must lose one’s self, contains the truth any seeker of self-fulfillment needs to grasp.” He later states that the Gospel of Christianity “contradicts us in the way we experience ourselves as alive and compels us to drastically redefine what we mean by life” (RZIM, 1998).

When I study these types of things, I ask myself, “Without a true compass and rudder to guide me in life, how will I ever get anywhere and experience a truly satisfied and fulfilled life?” What’s the solution? The solution in Colossians 3:2 is a great answer; “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  Verses 5 and 6 of that same chapter fleshes out this thought even further; “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these, the wrath of God is coming…” These words by the Apostle Paul speaks to Qoheleth’s Quest of where ultimate meaning of life is discovered: God.

The Christian or Biblical Worldview of Theism is the worldview that gives humanity the most life satisfaction and fulfillment. As a chaplain, I have officiated my fair share of funerals. It is my opinion (by first hand observation), individuals who lived by the values, virtues and tenants of the Christian faith exit a life that is often described as having been well-lived. They left live legacies which earned respect because their lives were full of honor and integrity which many attendees are inspired to emulate. I suspect this is what Qoheleth’s Quest was all about, discovering the best way to life-life well. For him (and me), it is a life with God.

– Keith Evans

References:

Gary Phillips, William E. Brown and John Stonestreet. Making Sense of Your World, 2nd edition. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co, 2008.

Tommy Nelson. The Problem of Life with God. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002.

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, “An Ancient Message through Modern Means, to a Post Modern Mind”, September 1, 1998. http://www.rzim.org