August 1, 2012
In the years preceding my father’s death in 2002 I had many conversations with him about his experiences growing up. I was particularly interested in his mother and father whom I had never met. I recall once asking him how he found out about his mother’s death in 1945. He was in the Navy on a Destroyer Escort and the surrender of Japan was still several months away. He told me that he returned to his bunk one day and found a note that said something like: “Your mother died 3 weeks ago.” My father was not one to expound upon emotions but he said it was the worst day of his life. That’s saying something since it would be less than a year until he was out of the service and returned home one evening to find his father dead at the bottom of their basement steps.
A dear friend recently recommended that I read Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. You may not know of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a Lutheran pastor and scholar in the early part of the 1900’s leading up to World War 2. During the war he was part of the faithful church in Germany entitled “The Confessing Church” (differentiated from the larger church that sided with and supported Hitler). He was arrested in 1943 for his resistance efforts and for plotting to assassinate Hitler. He was subsequently executed in 1945 only two weeks before the Americans liberated the camp where he was imprisoned. Bonhoeffer was a prolific writer and he penned two Christian classics: The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.
I want to mention something about Bonhoeffer’s family. He was born in 1906, the sixth of eight children. His faith was due largely to his mother’s influence. When he was arrested in 1943 his parents were still living. Because of the war, communication was poor and they had little idea where he was or what had become of him. After the war concluded they only had rumors… some that he was alive and well and others that he was dead. Supporters and friends of Bonhoeffer in England got confirmation of his execution and planned a memorial service for him that was broadcast over the radio. His parents were told that this might be the case but it wasn’t until they tuned in to the broadcast that they got confirmation of their son’s death.
I write these two accounts only to say that there are tragic, sad, sorrowful things that happen in this world. Few of us will escape these mortal bones without some experience that will rip our hearts open and cause untold grief. The question that plagues so many who call Jesus their Lord is this: What do we do with this sorrow? How do we deal with sadness that threatens to overcome us? What do we do about our lack of joy? Where is Jesus in all of this?
In Philippians 4:4 Paul says: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Some have interpreted this verse to mean that we always have to have a smile on our faces even in the most tragic of circumstances. Seriously?!?! Does anyone with a modicum of sense think that God wants us to feel good when terrible things happen? I don’t think Jesus was feeling so well when he cried at the tomb of Lazarus! What does it mean then to “rejoice always?” Well notice, that’s not what the verse says! What it says is Rejoice in the Lord always.
It seems that Paul is saying that we can rejoice in our Lord regardless of the circumstances swirling about us. And trust me, Paul had some “circumstances.” He was beaten, ship wrecked, left for dead… He knew about “circumstances.” This example pales in comparison, but there are days when I come home miserable because of “circumstances.” But I come home resting in the assurance that there is a woman who lives with me that loves me very much and who will encourage me and pray for me. That doesn’t change my “circumstances,” but it does give me cause to rejoice in her.
Christians, no matter what place you are in today. It does not negate the fact that you are loved by a merciful Father and you were paid for by a loving Son. In that we can always rejoice.