This is the twenty-fifth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
Just released: A Book of Prayers for Kids by Mel Lawrenz (a perfect gift for the kids you know and love).
Today I feel compelled to write a more personal expression of what it means to “live the Bible.” I have not mentioned before now in these writings that in the last year I have had to exercise faith in God’s character like never before. One year ago this week my 30-year-old daughter Eva suddenly died. She was a most beautiful expression of grace and honesty and truthfulness. One of her friends called her the most radiant person he ever knew. And then she was gone, and I knew my family and I were going to have to face the starkest and harshest reality we had ever faced. We could still smell her perfume in the air of our house, but there would be no more conversations, hugs, or laughter. No shared meals. No future wedding or kids. Everything changed on that day.
But this was not the only stark face of mortality we faced this year. As I write today my left arm is in a sling because of a broken arm, and I have a fractured pelvis which I suffered three weeks ago after falling nine feet from a ladder onto a concrete floor. The pain is present all day long. Yet I know it could have been much worse. Pitched slightly a different way, I would have hit my head with what my doctors tell me likely would have been fatal.
I do not write this as a litany of despair, nor a complaint. Ever since my father died when I was just four years old (he was 26 at the time), I have known about mortality. The question is: what do we do with this hard truth? Is there a way to live in the face of perishing?
This, of course, is the great question of the ages, though we are really good at avoiding it. Whole religions and philosophies have been invented to answer the question.
I decided to write “How to Live the Bible” in this difficult year in part because I needed to go deeper with this question than ever before. And I am grateful to God that, week by week, I find the foundation of faith beneath my feet to be firm and supporting.
In the early days after Eva’s death there were two biblical truths that were the solid ground on which I could walk, though my walking was slow and plodding. One was the character of God and the other was the providence of God.
The central truth of Scripture is that there is a creator God, and that his character is all good and all great. This is what I was taught as a child by my mother and others, and what I came to firmly believe as a teenager. In decades of doing pastoral ministry and teaching theology I keep coming back to that foundation: God is great and God is good. When Eva died I knew that she had slipped from my embrace, just a week before Fathers’ Day, but that she had fallen into the loving arms of her heavenly Father who actually loves her more than I ever could, though I don’t know how that could be. An earthquake hit us, I dropped to the ground, but the ground of the truth of the character of God was solid beneath me.
God is great, and God is good. God’s greatness is about his ascendancy over this world, over the universe, over all reality. Greatness is about his being eternal, absolutely powerful, all-knowing, and other qualities that we will never fully comprehend. His goodness, on the other hand, is about his relational qualities, which we know by revelations such as “God is love” and “God is holy” and “God is right.” They also tend to be the qualities that were imprinted on the spiritual DNA of our lives when he created us. This is how God wants us to be, because we were made in his image.
The other biblical truth that came rushing into my mind in those early frightening days was the providence of God. The Bible says that Jesus said that God knows the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7), that a sparrow does not fall without God knowing (Matt. 10:29), that he knows the number of our days (Ps. 139:16), and so many other things. For me, living the Bible has meant trusting that my daughter lived the fullness of her life in this world, though it seems foreshortened to me.
God has allowed me to have confidence in this. I live in this. The truths about the character of God and the providence of God lessen the anguish, but do not take it away. The assurance of heaven gives hope, but does not lessen the longing to have one more conversation. Our losses do not make me believe less in God, but call out to God more. It is better to cry out to God than to cry alone.
If you know someone mourning a loss, just come alongside them. They are not looking for answers, but love. God’s grace through people has sustained us while we live in what Ecclesiastes calls “the house of mourning” (7:2). It is not where one lives permanently, but when you have large loss, you must truly mourn, all the while hanging onto the mercy of God.
Perhaps this is a message you would like to share with others.
Eva Helen Lawrenz, 1987-2017. “Eva” means life, “Helen” means light. In order to bring something purposeful out of loss, a memorial fund in Eva Lawrenz’s name is now funding translations and printings of How to Understand the Bible, How to Study the Bible, How to Live the Bible, Prayers for Our Lives, and other books. “Life and Light Books” exists to bring helpful literature to needy parts of the world, presently including Haiti, Ethiopia, Russia, Indonesia, Latin America, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, and more. To learn more, go to www.LifeAndLightBooks.org. All contributions are tax deductible in the USA.
Available now: Knowing Him: Devotional Readings About the Cross and Resurrection by Mel Lawrenz. Get it now.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.