Sunday, July 30, 2006

Being reconciled to God

If you are a parent whose child has died, being reconciled to God is hard. It gives a different twist to Paul's "being reconciled to God through Christ" (Romans 5:6-11). Parents who have buried children start with the feeling that the relationship is already ruptured.

That difficult starting point is what I found interesting in twelve-step programs. In those, people who have prayed over and over again have to find a way to pray to God again, and they do. This time it works, where prayer failed them every time before -- which makes the initial hurdle of faith so hard. The entire process tells a great deal about God's willingness to touch and help his children -- if they honestly seek him -- and what it means to be honest.

This need to be honest is especially true in the later stages where to keep sober an addict or alcoholic must become willing to lay aside their sins and defects. They start with inventories, then confession, but neither requires any change, just internal honesty. Then they face a willingness to change and a willingness to let God help them change.

This is far more than "God, deliver me from alcohol (or drugs)." It is, "God, I'm going to trust you and let myself follow where you lead." There is a lot of fear there, but for most, any place that God can take them is better than where they are.

In grief, that isn't so. The places you might go are not necessarily better than where you are.

God has already taken you through the death of a child. Maybe more than once. As you recover, there are many more worse places you can go than "just" one death, after all, you probably have more children who can die. I did.

For me, after three deaths, then came news that my Dad's cancer had been treated improperly. My brother's boss had a father with the same diagnosis. They had buried him within six months of that discovery, and three months was the expected survival horizon. Then was the push to move to Dallas and for my wife to go to graduate school. That was very hard.

There are worse things. ConsiderJob, who after everything else, including boils, then had "friends" visit him and tell him it was all his fault and berate him for his sins that caused such things to happen. My wife survived graduate school, I survived working downtown, Job survived friends.

Instead of the alcoholic's steady pace of things being better than they looked, in grief things keep turning out harder than they look, and more painful. Over and over and over again. Everyone is ready to tell you which behaviors in grief make you a monster, ready to be mocked and deserving only of ridicule, deciding which of your sins make you beyond the bounds. Everyone is a judge and jury -- and they and their coterie are self-righteous and very pleased to be so.

In many ways it is as hard, or harder (at least so I am told by those who have experience) as many other of the terrible pains people can suffer in this life, innocently, at the hands of others. Those have similar problems, similar barriers, in their lives, in trust, and in hope. From serving as an ad litem, on the boards of crisis centers and advocacy centers and in dealing with hospices, my heart goes out to those who have sufferred, and who have barriers of pain between themselves and God.

Those barriers I have just described, those terribly hard steps, make returning to prayer, being reconciled to God, hard. An alcoholic in remission feels positive (some times at least, I've known a number of them. I've missed the experience myself, but the positive theme that this time things can only get better is very common). God is hearing and answering and responding to prayer.

The twelve step program is a program of teaching someone to understand God, to believe in God, to repent and seek God and to find God so that a very specific miracle happens. Those who can find honesty and who stick with it, are healed, be they atheists, or anything else. They find a sense of security and hope and serenity.

In grief, God never takes the pain away fully, because the love endures. David O Mckay's wife reported that in her eighties, the pain of her son's death was still with her.

I've yet to read a case study or know an alcoholic who, in following God's will, fell back into the abyss. I've known parents who have buried a child who had that experience again. Instead of gaining a feeling of security, you lose that sense of trust.

Not that you can not rise beyond the lack of security. While Paul notes that if this world was everything, we would be of all humanity the most miserable, he also preaches of the restoration that comes through Christ. We find a reconciliation with God through Christ and a path to God in prayer through his son.

It is not deliverance from the perils and trials of mortality that God offers us, but a promise of restoration and healing once we have passed through those experiences. Not that we will not encounter pain, but that through Christ, in the end, we will be made whole.

Which is why after the death of a child we can still find reconciliation with God through Christ.

I should note that my father's treating doctor's diagnosis was as bad as the treatment plan, and my father survived and served out another mission or so, until he came down with Parkinson's. But cancer hasn't killed him yet.


Anonymous said...

I showed my dad, who is visiting, your blog. He is a retired professor of Statistics at BYU. He recognized your picture, and possibly your name from somewhere. He wonders if he has seen you speak, maybe at the Hill Cumorah Pageant or something. You never know.

annegb said...

I was mad at God for years and that third step, made a decision to turn my life and will over to the care of God was a hard one.

I didn't think He'd done so well with me in the past, you see.

I'm better now. Not perfect, but better. I'm starting to see that God's wish (as opposed to will) is for the very best for me.

Stephen said...

annegb, nicely said.

maren, I don't think so. I never took statistics at BYU, I was *in* the pagent in the mid-70s, but not a speaker at pagent.

Sounds like he is a neat guy though.

Lisa M. said...

I took statistics. (twice) I might add. Never at BYU. *grin* But.. I have met the great man. AND that he is.

I have been mad at God, too. Raged, screamed, threatened and shouted. Number three seemed beyond me ... for a VERY long time.

I too, am better now. Most of the time. I liked the way you said that Ms Annegb. I like to think that I too am seeing that God's wish for me.. is the best wish for me.

Great way to state that.

Good post, as usual Stephen.