It is impossibly difficult to put into words what we all feel right now: confusion, pity, sorrow, anger, disappointment. For those who know and love Diane, the circumstances around her tragic death have been disorienting, like the first steps off a spinning tilt-a-whirl. To say we are experiencing a Job-like moment is no exaggeration. We have been blind-sided in the most unexpected way. If we are honest, we want answers. Our finite minds and broken hearts want an infinitely wise, holy, and loving God to explain how we got here.
We feel an acute sense of loss because Diane is a godly saint. I say “is” because, for those who are in Christ, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). She is a precious daughter of God who loves and knows Jesus – now better than any of us. And she was the aroma of Christ to all who knew her (2 Cor 2:15-17).
Diane’s joyful, other-centered, Jesus-exalting disposition is what makes this occasion so painfully perplexing. She lived to stir up gospel faith in those she loved. In every conversation I’ve had with Charlie and the girls this week, they have mentioned how often Mimi would speak the truth of the gospel into the lives of her grandkids – and oh how she loved her kids.
Over the past several weeks, a darkness of soul settled upon Diane’s heart and mind. Most of us had no idea she was unable to see vestiges of light in this season of sadness. She found herself struggling to say to Christ whom she loved, “I believe, though with a weak, fragile faith; Lord, help my unbelief.” She was vulnerable, perhaps like Peter when Jesus told him he had prayed for him because the Enemy, Satan, desired to “sift [him] like wheat” (Luke 22:31).
Why did her faith in Christ not carry her through her consuming despair? Why couldn’t she see that all the promises of Christ – the promises she prayed over Tyler and Sarah, over Jeff and Corbin, over her precious grandchildren, over the love of her life, and over her countless friends and co-workers – were the solution to what she felt?
We want to ask “why”. This is only natural. We want to know why Christianity does not have a specific answer to every problem we have. We want to know why Diane felt so hopeless.
But we will go mad chasing after the elusive “why”. Rather than looking for answers to what we don’t know, and won’t likely find, I want to offer you comfort in what we do know.
My hope over the next few minutes is to offer some perspective and encouragement to hurting hearts desperately trying to make sense of this day.
Take comfort, for the Bible accounts for seasons of consuming despair in the lives of God’s saints. Diane’s dark night of the soul was not unique. Psalm 88 is but one example.
- “I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength…” (88:4a)
- “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves” (88:6-7)
- “I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow” (88:8b-9a)
- “O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?” (88:14)
- These words expressing escaping hope, like air rushing out of a deflating balloon, should provide a measure of comfort. Seasons of darkness are not unusual or abnormal for the true believer
- Even Jesus knew and felt descending darkness upon his soul. He too was eager to escape that darkness
- “And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled” (Matt 26:37)
- He said his soul was “sorrowful, even to death” (26:38) and he begged God to let the cup of the cross pass from him (26:39)
- What does this mean? It means, as Pastor John Piper reminds us, the first shockwaves of the bomb of depression that drops into the human heart, the feeling that your future is threatened or inescapably dark, is not sin
- The real danger is not the darkness; it’s giving in to the darkness. Yes, our dear Diane lost this battle
- We are reminded today that not everyone who loves Jesus experiences “victory in Jesus” in this life. We don’t win every battle on the earth. Look no further than that great chapter of faith in Hebrews 11. Some saints overcome, some die alone and in agony
- Christ died for our sins, even the despair that leads one to act with finality. He has loved us – and Diane – at our worst
- For a brief moment, Diane felt too weak to hold onto Christ. But Christ is still holding onto her. Her salvation depends upon the strength of Christ’s grip upon her, not hers on him
- “Attached to every thorn of pain is a rose of purpose. It is often better to be held by God than healed by Him.” (Christian George) – Praise God, Diane is being held and has been healed by Christ today
This is not a time to judge God.
- The difficulty of Job’s life is hard to understand. A man of God is afflicted in the worst ways imaginable
- All his children die in a natural disaster
- He loses all his earthly wealth
- His wife tells him to abandon his faith and curse God
- His friends all point the finger at him, suggesting that the “why” for his suffering is his own fault
- Everyone in the story wants to solve the riddle of Job’s suffering
- Though Job does not curse God, he certainly questions Him, interrogates Him, and steps right to the brink of judging Him
- If we learn anything from Job it is this: God doesn’t promise us a life of ease and prosperity, and should we not receive a suffering-free life, does not make God any less good, wise, or loving.
- We can lift our eyes to God in this heart-wrenching moment because we have a mediator, an advocate, who has paid the ransom for our sin, given us access to God, and satisfied the justice that our guilt required.
- We have a Savior beckoning us to bring our weary souls, tear-stained faces, and broken hearts to Him to find rest
Our hearts can be broken and hopeful at the same time.
- We grieve today because we will no longer see Diane in this life. But we rejoice because Diane is in the presence of Christ
- We grieve today because we are in pain. But we rejoice because God is at work in our pain (see James 1:2-4)
- “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you maybe perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”
- We grieve today because this is unspeakably hard. But we can have joy because this pain is designed to increase our capacity for God (see 2 Cor 4:17-18)
- “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal”
- Our present sorrow feels neither light or momentary, but it is not without purpose. God is working to increase our capacity for him
When it is too painful to pray, know the Spirit and Jesus are interceding for you.
- In times like these, we may not have energy or the words to pray. We may not want to pray. We may be disillusioned by our questions or emotions. The Spirit is available for times such as these
- “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26)
- Jesus purchased the strength we need for trials and sorrows such as these
- Jesus is with us even now (Matt 28:20)
- He knows and sympathizes with our weakness (Heb 4:14-16)
Guard your heart against anger, bitterness and doubt.
- I think we all feel some measure of anger and disappointment. But if you allow your anger or bitterness to consume you, if doubt about the goodness of God grows in your heart because you insist on knowing why this happened, then this one irrational act will become the defining thing you remember about Diane
- That would be a tragedy because her moment of weakness was not her most defining trait
- On the day Diane saw Jesus face-to-face, her Bible was open to Rom 5:1-2
Her most defining trait was her faith in her Savior, Jesus
- We grieve with hope today because Diane was justified – made right with God – not because she was a good person, but because of her faith in the finished work of Christ
- Don’t let her moment of despair define her. Forgive her, as Christ has forgiven you by faith (Eph 4:32).
Diane’s Christianity did not fail her on January 20. On the contrary, Diane has never been more alive than she is right now. She is in the presence of Christ, and one day, her soul and body will converge again. We know this is true because Christ has been risen. Because Christ is risen, all the saints of God will also be raised with Him and will be like Him in glory.
Yes, we feel devastated. There is a reason for this. Our mortal enemies, sin, Satan, and death, have struck a blow. We feel the sting of this wound. But sin, Satan, and death will not have the final word. As Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “We have suffered bereavement after bereavement, but we are going to the land of the immortal where graves do not exist.”
To Charlie, Tyler, and Sarah. To Jeff and Corbin. To the grandkids Emersyn, Carter, and Cameron. To her brothers Danny and Darryl. We grieve with you the loss your wife, mother, “Mimi”, and sister. Even though I loved Diane, I cannot begin to know your suffering and the sense of loss you must feel today.
But remember that God knows what you feel. That’s because a Father who sent his Son in love to die for sinners can identify with your suffering. Jesus emptied Himself and become obedient to the point of death on the cross, so that the penalty for our sin might be paid, and we might become the righteousness of God by faith. Because the Father gave us Jesus, Diane has been adopted into the family of God, as have so many of us here honoring her life and faith.
My sorrow is put into perspective by these words from Michael Horton to each of us: “For all of us here who are afraid of death, or of life, the good news is that…[there is a Mediator] …at God’s right hand, [an] advocate who pleads our case. His name is Jesus Christ and if your faith is in the Rock of Ages and in this Mighty Fortress, he will be your friend, in this world and the world to come.”
What a friend Diane has in Jesus, and what a friend we can have, to bear our sin, grief and sorrow. Take your burdens to him today. Grieve for this woman we all loved so dearly. Grieve deeply. But grieve with hope. Because Christ has died, and Christ is risen, and Christ is coming again, Diane is alive and full of eternal, satisfying joy in the presence of God.