My friend’s young son is dying. They expect the death soon. There is nothing that any of us can do about it.
She’s someone I knew well in college. We lost touch a few months after graduation, but even a decade removed and thousands of miles away, it’s easy to still care about her. A lot. She’s vibrant, sweet, hilarious, and unswerving—that rare, riveting combination of strength and ease. People flock to her. And though I’ve never met her boy, from what I’ve seen of him, he clearly inherited the rowdy, miniature version of his mama’s charm. A few years of cancer, surgeries, and treatments don’t dim a spirit like that; they only spotlight it.
Oh, what a loss. Unimaginable, unspeakable.
I am nowhere near the epicenter of this, not even close. Still, the other day I was standing at the kitchen sink, just rinsing a chicken to roast for some soup, and suddenly I was weeping. I felt so swept up I had to put the thing down. I mention this because as something of an experienced crier, I expect most tears to bring release. There was no release.
By this time, I had already run a gambit, trying to find some fitting, tangible way to help my friend and her family. A contribution to their medical expenses didn’t seem personal enough on its own, and reaching out in a more personal way had the risk of interrupting their last, precious days together. Every other conceivable idea seemed obnoxious or futile too. How do you help, when Facebook is your only venue? What do you say, from the fringes of someone else’s tragedy? I had zero clue.
Clamoring for a solution, still getting nowhere, I tried a new tack in finding my way through. I tried writing it, because certain messes in my head are best sorted out by sorting sentences. I wrote myself in circles.
After days of drafting, there was sorrow, frustration, confusion, compassion, love, lamenting, fondness, and helplessness all over the page, but I could not work those words into an order that resolved. The effort was taking so long that I felt ashamed about it—what a cruel luxury, to be shaking my head at phrasing and punctuation when other people have a child dying! Still, I couldn’t escape the feeling of actual cognitive distress, so despite my guilt, I kept going. I wrote, prayed, and rewrote, straining for that resolution. Then, suddenly, the truth was as plain as red ink taking over every margin and line: There is no earthly release. There is no earthly solution. There is no earthly resolving of this. None.
But oh, there is resolution.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”* This passage in Isaiah 53 is telling us how everything resolves. Even when we don’t feel it tangibly, even when the loss and the anguish and the vile heartache feels far more palpable, our resolution is here.
Jesus Christ has opened for us a door into all the fullness of life, forever. Our rivalry with death is a testament, whether we realize it or not, to him. The hostility we feel about dying—all the confused, complicated ways we rail against it—is a definitive way of proclaiming its wrongness. We are demonstrating our ultimate search for the Right.
“He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities … the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”* In an utterly one-sided exchange, Christ was marred and murdered for our sin, in order to give those of us who know him a share in his eternal glory. That will be the true life. It will astonish us, and it will not be halted by anything.
Earlier in Isaiah 53, we see, “He grew up … like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground.”** This is a truth that can fortify us in the face of deepest grief. Reading it, we can almost hear these words from God in personalized paraphrase: I, the Lord, see this scorched earth all around you. Watch me through your tears, and know: dry ground will not have the final word in your midst. I am springing up, tender and green, redeeming.
*Isaiah 53: 4-6, ESV
**Isaiah 53: 2, ESV
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