We throw the word awesome around in our vocabulary fairly cavalierly. Someone gives a good performance on American Idol and we call it awesome; someone makes a diving catch in the outfield and we call it awesome; we get up on skis for the first time and call it awesome. As one who has used that very word in all three of the contexts above, after the last couple of days, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been using the word all wrong.
What we call awesome, the Jews of the Old Testament called terrible. It’s a hard word for us understand, because our common vernacular and understanding of language views the word terrible as that which describes performance – she did a terrible job singing; that was a terrible decision for him make. But what if we viewed it like the Hebrews did?
“For the Lord your God is a God of gods and Lord of lords, the Great God, mighty and terrible…and He has done great and terrible things which your eyes have seen.” – Deuteronomy 10:17, 21
What if something could be great and terrible at the same time? What if God Himself is unimaginably amazing and awesome and terrifying and terrible all at the same time? What if He is the King of the Universe and a babe in a manger at once? What if He’s a ferocious lion and gentle lamb at the same time? What if He is a vengeful warrior and a Prince of Peace without contradicting who His nature is? What if He’s filled with love and exacting in judgment in perfect harmony? And if He is all these things, doesn’t it make my use of awesome seem utterly insignificant?
Right now, a “great and terrible” God is the only description of Him that makes any sense for me in my despair. This past Thursday night, Liza and I received an email from our adoption coordinator that our son, whose Ethiopian name was Kiya, had been fighting an infection in the hospital, but was not strong enough to beat it; he passed away Tuesday, September 11, 2012.
Liza told me of this news as she was leaving bible study, and in God’s grace, I’m glad she wasn’t around to see my reaction. I hung up the phone and wept and wailed, sprawled out on the couch, asking over and over, “Why?…..why?” I do not know.
We go in and out of dealing with this reality, primarily when we are forced to talk about it in detail, as I am now. We have both wept bitterly, our eyes, as the Psalmist says, “waste away with grief.” Sleep seems most favorable, because it’s hard to keep tired eyes open. Friends and family have called and texted, left messages on Facebook, and have encouraged us with kindness and petitions of prayer and strength. Surely this is what God meant when He said, “Comfort the afflicted.”
We don’t have any answers. We don’t even know what to do next. In two months we have lost two children, one to another family, and another to death itself. Our hearts break with sorrow and grief.
As unimaginable as it may sound, however, I cannot deny the peace I have within my soul. I offer no empirical evidence for it, no way to prove it’s real with measurable tests or proofs. I can only say that the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 course through every fiber of my being in an undeniable way: “For we do not grieve as those who have no hope.”
Grieve, yes. But as a man without hope? No, I do not grieve in that way.
My sister-in-law reminded me of CS Lewis’ words in A Grief Observed as he dealt with the death of his wife:
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.
The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.
The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like.
Deceive yourself no longer.’
This grief observed does not shake my confidence in the goodness or love of my heavenly Father. As my best friend put it, “God is good and loving and cares about you and Liza so much that He does not pander to the here and now.” While Liza and I so desperately wanted to raise our son and see him take care of us in our old age, if he was destined to die as a baby in the providence of a Great and Terrible God, we are thankful we were chosen to be his parents, if only for a short while. Humans typically view life on a linear “here and now” continuum; but I’m thankful God does not pander to my “here and now” wants, but on His “timeless and eternal” plan, a plan I know seemingly nothing about. But the part I do know – that He is God and I am not – is somehow enough.
I also know one other thing – our son didn’t die without a family. I trust God will bless us with children in the future. And when He does, I’ll be able to tell them about the brother they never knew, but will know one day “when we see Him face to face.”
Yes, the God of the bible is a Great and Awesome and Terrible God; I can do nothing but fall on my face before Him in absolute subjection. It’s in the presence of this Terrible God that the greatness of His love protects me and comforts me in my grief. It is here that I accept Him for who He really is.
Liza is still processing this event; we both will for some time. We truly covet your thoughts and prayers during this, our grief observed.