As we turn the corner on 2019 and begin another new year, I find myself in a sober mood. It’s early on New Year’s Eve as I write, and fitting to reflect on the previous 12 months. The holidays have always been a time of happy reunions and celebrations for my crew and 2019 was no different. But for many it’s a profoundly difficult time. I’m humbled by an awareness of all the losses suffered this past year by those I know personally or through close friends and family. I guess it’s the anticipation of ushering in a new year and the hope it represents which has me thinking of them, praying relief and better days will come soon.
Social media also attests to a suffering world as it tunes us into the lives of strangers — even if from a distance. I’ve been edified by how various people interact with their supporters as they weather life’s storms, but one reaction stands out as worth mentioning. You may have heard about the untimely death of Christian rapper TobyMac’s eldest son, Truett, who died suddenly in October, at the young age of 21. TobyMac has since shared a bit with his social media followers, even posting pictures from the family’s memorial celebration for Truett. In the caption he wrote the following:
“As we enter this week of Thanksgiving we have something we’d like to share… Such overwhelming love has surrounded us this last month. We still don’t quite know which end is up but we do KNOW, we are loved.”
I couldn’t help but notice the first thing he recognized is love. I think this was intentional and testifies to a healthy church community. The bible emphasizes the priority and necessity of love in a passage called “The Way of Love” in 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV
Later in the passage, verse 13 emphasizes the priority of love again:
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13
TobyMac continues, describing God’s love as a function of the church:
“As we mourn our firstborn son, God has poured out His love on us through people. He has loved us through you…your kind acts and words and prayers and thoughts and songs and poems and teachings and gifts and meals and time and expertise and travel have made death bearable. You have been God’s light to us in our darkest days – A comfort to our broken hearts. We have experienced family at every layer and every turn. From the closest to those who have loved from a distance, thank you, thank you a thousand times over. We are grateful for your gentle and compassionate hearts. It is something we will never forget. Community as it should be…the body at its best. How God must be pleased!”
How God must be pleased indeed! This is the Christian church at its finest. During a time of great polarization and internal bickering, this type of witness by the church through service and community is still evident and so encouraging. It reflects the next part of the passage, demonstrating perseverance and support:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Truett’s dad makes the most remarkable statement next:
“Also- We’ve been encouraging ourselves to stand on this…the place of death is actually where all that we believe is most significant. That God has the power to do what he promised, defeat death and give life to anyone who believes. So from the valley of the shadow of death we pray a flood of thankfulness will rise this week. Thankfulness to a kind God who is not afraid. The Father of the Heavenly lights…who shines most beautifully in the darkness, and gives us everything we need.”
The crux of their message, despite this tremendous loss, is to witness the truth about God’s plan of salvation. These parents are living through their worst nightmare but are still able to give thanks and share an amazing message of hope. For them, God seems the most beautiful through their great loss. They’re able to acknowledge that God has provided all that they need and is sovereign over all things. Despite their suffering, they still claim that God is kind and powerful, able to deliver his promises.
“The place of death is actually where all that we believe is most significant.” I need to keep re-reading it. It’s where the rubber meets the road. Any message about God’s love and sovereignty is less powerful when not viewed through the lens of death. If Christ was not resurrected and God is not a God of life after death, then all we believe is in vain. Paul says:
if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:14
But Christ has been raised and God has defeated death. If we believe in Christ’s atonement for our sins through his death on the cross and resurrection victory, in him we have salvation and God’s promise of everlasting life. God is unchanging and faithful:
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. – Malachi 3:6
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. -2 Timothy 2:13
As we begin another New Year, let’s help one another have eternal perspective and share God’s love and the good news of the gospel with a suffering world. For those who believe, even in the face of great suffering and loss, we can be encouraged like Truett’s parents and stand on the great hope that we have in Christ.
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:55