“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up, for even Christ did not please himself. But as it is written that the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. For everything that was written in the past, that scripture was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:1-4)
“Dad, there’s been a terrible accident. Bob is in critical condition.” Bob? So, full of life, reaching his prime as a very successful photojournalist. Bob, my buddy, my son, open, loving, generous. Bob had just told me three days before, that God had spoken to him and it was time for him to set sail for God. On a routine underwater photo assignment Bob had run out of oxygen, become disoriented and stayed underwater for 10 minutes.
“Bob is with Jesus.” I think the word to describe my Inner state during those days was numb. Solomon said only the person involved can know his own bitterness or joy. No one else can really share it. Each must find his own way. In my case, I realized on reflection there were great therapies at work. One was the love of family and friends, and the other was the comfort of Scripture.
The passage along this line is our verse for today in Romans 15. Here is an underlying principle that requires reaching out to brothers who are weak in faith, and furthermore, perhaps an underlying principle that describes the Christian response to one. There may be weakness for whatever reason, and so I find here this beautiful unity of the Spirit. God gives endurance and encouragement to those who need it, to those who are down and needing courage, through a spirit of unity. Well, we had this love expressed in food and flowers, telephone calls, visits, letters, hundreds of letters. This was a healing balm. There’s a unity of the family.
I had all varieties of expression, I’m sure, from those who felt I should be grief free and filled with joy and the strength of the Lord, to those who said they understood well because it was similar loss, to those who said nothing but stood by in silent grief. None seemed inappropriate to me. All were trying to say, “I love you. I care.” How can that be inappropriate? And love assuages the grief. It’s the unity of the body. My suffering was public.
But as the weeks wore on, I became aware of a great comfort that was at work, the comfort of the scriptures. You see that in verse 4, “through endurance and the comfort of the scriptures we might have hope.” There’s something in Scripture that brings hope in the most hopeless situation. Well, my problem was that at the time of Bob death, my daily Bible reading was in Numbers and Deuteronomy, and there’s not much comfort there. But I didn’t change or go on a search mission for more appropriate texts. It gradually dawned on me. That the true comfort of the scripture was in what it had taught me across the years about God, and heaven, and life, and death. By the molding of my mind and directing my thoughts, I had come to see things from God’s perspective. So that when the bombs began to fall. We are already safe in the shelter of his truth. There’s something basic about just routinely getting all of this into our head. It’s sort of like learning the multiplication table. It’s not fun. You don’t see any immediate application in life. It’s pretty much a grinding. You wouldn’t do it if the teacher didn’t make you do it. But it’s sort of undergirds the rest of your life. You find that the comfort of the Scripture comes, and we have the knowledge of God through the Word of God.
Well, the comfort of the Scripture gives hope. Hope for heaven. The void and the sense of loss is there. But a great discovery is the comfort of the Scripture, and the unity of the family – the body of Christ. And you see it was given to give hope. Remember the former things. So it’s not wrong for us to remember and to recount the former things about those we have lost, but the text in Isaiah says “remember the former things, those of long ago, I am God and there is no other. I will do all that I please. My purpose will stand. I’m not like these idols. I’m not like these gods of the nations. I am the God of truth. And I will do all that I purpose.” Remember, “I am the God, not the one that you have to carry and protect and explain.” No, no, no. It’s the other way around, he says, “even to your old age in gray hairs. I am He. I am He who will sustain you. I have made you, and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you, because I am God.” Remember this.