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Editor’s note:

Not long ago, on one of the CLC e-mail forums, there was an exchange on the subject of what a Christian might say to another who is experiencing some great trial or testing of faith. With the permission of the writer (Robin Vogsland, a member of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, Albuquerque, N.Mex.), we are sharing with you this encouraging expression of faith from one who endured such trial in his family.

Introducing his remarks, Mr. Vogsland said: “I wrote the following a couple of weeks ago for a Christian friend of a friend whose 15-year-old son has inoperable brain cancer, and who was looking for answers and comfort in that terrible trial. . . . “

‘Bereavement Letter’

This is what I would say as a fellow Christian to ______________,

There is no way that I can appreciate exactly what you are going through, but I know what it is like to lose a young child. My second daughter Rachel was born with major genetic abnormalities (blind, retarded, perhaps deaf, and medically fragile and a life expectancy of weeks). For us, her birth was an occasion of grief instead of joy and hope. The first thing I did was remember what Christ says: “You have not because you ask not,” so I prayed fervently that He would work a miracle to make her healthy and even normal.

I also remember that Christ, when facing His own death and pleading under the torment awaiting Him, ended His plea with “But Your will be done,” so I did the same. If Christ did so (and Christ said, “A servant is not above His master”), then I as Christ’s servant too must accept whatever God decides. He did not answer my prayer the way I hoped, but I believed that He had a reason. This strengthened me but did not take away the pain–for the grief must still be dealt with–so I cried too.

We live in a world twisted by the fall into sin, and disease and corruption is the result–that is not a surprise or a change. The real, personal question is (given that some children will suffer in this way), “why mine?” I thought about the words: “To whom much is given, much will be required,” and “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but with every temptation will provide a way of escape, that you may endure it.” I realized that if God allows this to happen, then He was also expressing His confidence in my wife and me to bear this burden without breaking

–He would not have allowed it if our faith was too weak. Also, this trouble is indeed all too common to man. And, although it is not quite logical, I also thought to myself: “It is better for us to carry this burden who are able to do it, than that it should have fallen instead on someone who had no faith, who would have been destroyed by it.”

After being able to accept the burden that much, I then remembered lots of other things: “Be witnesses of me”; and “You are the salt of the earth”; and “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven”; and even “All things work for good to those who love the Lord.” Could there be good in THIS? Indeed there could. . . .

I thought of it from my daughter’s perspective. We suffered mentally, but she suffered the greatest loss–a life cut short and emptied of accomplishment (our natural minds told us this). But in faith we baptized her the night she was born–that she would be joined to the body of Christ. Thereafter we marveled at how uncomplainingly she bore all the discomfort and pain (and there was a LOT of it) in multiple hospitalizations, injections, IVs, fevers, seizures, and respiratory arrests and resuscitations. She bore it even better than we did our lesser burden. Our “little Christian” bore witness to us that God’s “grace is sufficient for you.” This was a powerful accomplishment for any Christian’s life.

One of our family friends also told us that when she was counseling a young handicapped girl who was contemplating suicide, our friend told her the story of Rachel and used it to bear witness to this girl of God’s grace. Another accomplishment for such a little Christian. There were a number of such occasions in the 2 1/2 years that she was with us (God’s answer to my first prayer was to extend her life beyond what any expected) when she was a witness of God’s love to doctors, friends, and family. The time was filled with trouble and worry, but also peace and joy in the shelter under the wings of the Almighty. Rachel may have accomplished more for the Kingdom of God in that time than I will in my whole life! How unlike our ways are His ways!

It was only after I had understood the things above that I was able to read and rejoice in the most shocking but also most comforting Bible verse of all: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His holy ones,” His believers. God is not sitting off somewhere casually watching us drop like flies. He is here with us. He is invested in us and close to us each moment of our lives–especially through the suffering and pain which draws us closer to Him. And when the end comes, God weeps too (as we saw Christ, the perfect image of the Father, weep at the grave of Lazarus). And He treasures the soul who departs as if it were a precious jewel–or gold refined and made precious by the burning fire of adversity.

Comfort your son in this last trial, build up his faith, remind him he is a powerful witness to those whom he meets, that he has been called to this very difficult assignment by the Lord. You and he must set your eyes on heaven, and when the time comes for him to depart, say as David did in hope at the death of his child from illness: “He shall not return to me, but I shall go to him.” Then put that reunion on your long-term calendar–Christ said: “He who believes in me shall never die.”

And I pray that you will in the end be able to rejoice in the Lord WHO DOES ALL THINGS WELL.

May you be strengthened in this trial and find true peace in Christ.

The Vogslands