Monday, May 21, 2007

O ABSALOM, MY SON

In studying the Old Testament, one reads many stories of heroism, courage, and honor, but one also reads of murder, rape and revenge. One of the most moving stories is the story of King David and his son, Absalom. While we could deal with the story in depth, suffice it to say that the brilliant and gifted son of King David dies, and the king, when he learns of the death of his son, gives us one of the most moving spectacles of a father mourning the death of his child when he cries out “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)

I recently commented to a friend that there really is no pain like that a parent feels when he sees his child suffering. And there really is no way to describe it to someone else unless that person has faced the same pain. There’s something about experiencing the sorrow of the suffering or even death of a child that tests and strengthens our most deeply held faith.

Our faith declares that suffering can be an aid to becoming a mature believer, but it isn’t the suffering itself that is the difference. It is how one handles suffering and pain that transforms the sad event into a stepping stone of faith and love. I’ve seen as many people react badly to suffering, and agonized myself as they descend into bitterness and despair, to a loss of faith and even into madness.

So, what makes the difference? There are at least three principles that will help us transform tragedy into triumph if only we will have the courage to believe the Truth taught by our Church.

First is the Power of Perspective. There’s a great old saying that “it doesn’t rain everyday.” One of the greatest temptations in the midst of tragedy and pain is to get spiritual “tunnel vision.” The only thing your heart sees is the pain or the tragedy or the sad event, but this “tunnel vision” is false. Very rarely is our life totally defined by sadness. Even during the most difficult times in our lives, good things happen and joy still finds its way into our lives.

By understanding the power of perspective, we will be able to break out of the “tunnel vision” of seeing only the pain, to also see the joy that is all around us. St. Paul understood this when he said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (I Corinthians 15:19,20)

Second is the Presence of the Paraclete. In St. John’s Gospel Jesus promises: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16,17) Jesus promises that He will send His disciples the “Counselor,” or in some other translations, the “Comforter,” meaning the Holy Spirit. The Greek word here is parakletos and is used in St. John’s gospel to refer to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer that provides us with an inexhaustible Source of strength and peace in the face of sad times and difficult circumstances. This resource, given to us by God’s grace, is available to every believer in the wisdom of the prayers of the Church and the divine mysteries of the faith, as well as within the soul of every believer who calls on God in times of pain and loss.

Finally is the Promise of Peace. Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) We are Children of the Promise, the promise that not even death can separate us from each other in Christ. Because He has overcome death, and has now granted to all who would receive it the promise of eternal life and salvation, we live in the peace that Jesus has given to those who love Him, the assurance of oneness with God through Christ and His Body, the Church. This peace will confuse those who don’t possess it. They will ask you how you can face such tragedy and sorrow with such grace and peace, and you can say to them, “It is the gift of my dearest Friend.”

Tragedy and difficult times come to us all. Persons of faith (contrary to some popular Christian teachings of the "name it and claim it" crowd) are not immune from hard times. The man or woman of faith simply face difficult circumstances in radically different ways than those who lack faith. The paths could not be more different. One leads to hope. The other to despair. There is no "magic" here. Only the mystery of love for Another, and being loved by Another.

2 comments:

David Bryan said...

Wonderful meditation. Especially appreciated is the part about my heavenly patron. Would that I would never have to go through the hell of losing a child, but I'm comforted in knowing that, if that should happen, despair is not an option, and my God, my patron saint, and those who survive with me would be there to help.

Barnabas Powell said...

Thanks David.

One of the truths that I love so much about Orthodoxy is that we never "pray alone."

B