Children are not supposed to die before their parents. Don't know where I heard that, but I thought of it yesterday when I visited the parents of a man who died in our community. I remembered a tombstone from the 1800's I saw in Scotland, that listed six children. When I greeted these parents I sensed a black void of grief lurking in the room, held at bay by their stoic resolve. Our moistened eyes acknowledged the pain, but there wasn't sufficient strength to speak of it beyond my expressing sadness for their loss. Quickly the conversation turned to the blessings of their son's life. And there are many.
Clark Bynum was a successful businessman in Sumter, a basketball standout in high school and college, and gained extensive fame when he and a friend helped subdue a hijacker in 2000. I never really got to know him personally, but from all reports he was a devout Christian man whose complete trust in God blessed others as he lived as a servant of Christ, and especially in these last months as he battled cancer.
I left the Bynum home and decided to spend the afternoon at home, with my daughter, home from school early because of the pain in her wrist. Last week she had to leave tennis practice because of the pain, which the orthopedic doctor thinks is due to a torn cartilage. We'll know for sure after an MRI this week.
I looked at my sleeping daughter and like any other parent, would have gladly traded my healthy wrist for her damaged one. And when I think on this feeling, my thoughts go to parents over the world who endure witnessing their children suffer greatly, many times for preventable reasons, such as hunger and war. We do all we can as parents to shield our children, but when it comes down to it, we are powerless to prevent their pain. Yet our love keeps us vulnerable and in this powerlessness we taste the poignancy of God's love.
I do not understand this deep mystery. Many years ago, theologians like Moltmann gave me concepts and words to talk about an awareness that had grown inside me since teen years. It is a Biblical concept, well known and much written about, but still one that has to take root inside you. That is, that while God is a God of all power and authority, God has chosen to relate to us through God's passion. God's power is known in weakness, and God redeems in the midst of suffering and pain. For God so loved the world that God gave God's own Son to suffer and die, holding back all the power and authority God possesses, to redeem us through the mystery of powerlessness and love.
"My ways are not your ways," God is quoted as saying. And the apostle Paul writes, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Cor 1:18). I wonder if we come closest to knowing God, not in the moments of estacy or transcendent joy, but when we enter the pain and suffering of others and feel the breath-stealing weight of "powerless love" upon our hearts. And in the mystery of God's passionate presence and redemption we have the assurance, Cast all your cares upon God, because God cares for us. (1Pet 5:7). I claim that promise for myself, for the Bynums, and for all parents today.