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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In Faith


My heart is hurting for a family I know who just said goodbye to their baby.  He was in his twenties and a daddy himself when he lost his long fight with illness.  I have prayed for another family this week whose baby teeters precariously between life and death because of a tragic accident.  He is four months old.   Today my husband and I have cried for a man our age whose wife and two daughters went to heaven after a car wreck yesterday.  He is alone.  I have stared into the faces of the beautiful children at Sandy Hook and let the tears flow for those parents who still have unwrapped Christmas presents in their closets even though it is January.  No little fingers are coming to open them.

Yesterday I couldn’t erase it from my mind.  Her squirmy little body twisting under the covers in her tiny princess bed.  Soft blonde curls spread across the pink satin pillow that pressed its coolness against her warm cheek.  Her  look of consternation when she said with all the seriousness a four year old could muster that she was scared to die.  How could my little Makiah have known that she only had two short weeks left on this earth?  Did she sense that it was coming?  Was it demonic torment?  Was it God trying to prepare her little heart… or mine?  If so, then why was she afraid?   Our bedtime talk haunts me.

I lay in the dark this morning snuggled with my little one, wanting desperately to be catching up on sleep, but the sadness of the week pulls me from my pillow.
I flip open my ipad and my eyes fall on Hebrews 11- the faith chapter.  As I read the end it strikes me as strange.  The writer talks about the great heroes of the faith. 

He sums them up by saying,
“through faith they conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection.  Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated- of whom the world was not worthy- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

Now I know Paul  and I were not in English 101 together, but generally the details are supposed to support the main idea.  Do you notice the divergence here?  This paragraph seems more than a little schizophrenic to me!  One minute he is raving about how the heroes of faith have conquered the darkest evils of this world, and then in the next breath he is describing how great heroes of faith have suffered terrible pain and persecution and death.  But he does it seamlessly.  There is no rift between the two.  His words have knit them together as if the playing out of their faith in either earthly success or defeat has the same end- victory.

Since Paul had the equivalent of multiple doctorates in his day and history esteems him to be much smarter than I am, I have to assume that he did this on purpose.  As if to erase all the weight we put on carnal success in comparison to what we perceive as the failure of misery and death.  No, actually he erases all comparison.  On the scales of the book of Hebrews, those whose faith made them victorious and those whose faith upheld them through extensive suffering and to their last painful breath are found to be equal.  The scales are balanced and there is no contrast made between the two at all.

Instead, Paul concludes in chapter 12 (comments in parenthesis are mine),
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (he calls them ALL great), let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (whichever race that might be), looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him (being with US for eternity is that joy!) endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

How have I never seen this before?  You can live and die  “in faith.”  And the particulars of the race that is set before you are not nearly as important as fixing your eyes on Jesus, lest you be swallowed up by despair or consumed by the fleeting pride of great earthly feats. 

The heaviness of my heart for the broken families who have joined me in this path is made a bit lighter as once again the prize comes before the eyes of my heart- heaven!  So many unanswered questions…  but I will choose to focus today on what is sure.  The incomparable reunions and wiping away of this blackest grief will surely come if we live and die in faith.

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