‘My Heart Stutters; My Strength Abandons Me’

In the end, no miracles.

A boy named Liam fought against leukemia for two years, and those of us who knew him or know his family learned yesterday morning that he lost it the night before. He had just turned 7.

Saying I don’t understand is somewhat redundant. No one understands. Even those who say they do – don’t.

Because in the end, for all the talk about tests and heaven and eventual reunification, if it had been your child or my child, none of that would make much sense. Those who think life-shattering losses can be explained don’t just insult those grieving the loss, they misread their own Bible.

Below is a new translation of portions of Psalm 38 from the first volume of Timeless: Ancient Psalms for the Church Today, which pairs new translations of the Psalms with new hymns based upon them, an effort to recover both the syntax and the poetry of the original Hebrew:

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger; correct me not in your wrath. …

O Master, all my desire is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart stutters; my strength abandons me; my sight even fails me. My friends and my companions stand away from my affliction; those close to me stand far away. …

Ah, it is for you, O Lord, I wait; it is you who will answer, O Master my God.

Ah, I said, “Only do not let them rejoice over me, or when my feet stumble they will boast against me.”

Ah, I go on limping and limping, my pain always the next step before me. …

I have so many foes without cause; so many who hate me for no reason. They repay evil for good; they are my adversaries though I pursue what is good.

O Lord, do not abandon me! O my God, do not be so far from me! Hurry to my aid, O Master, my Savior.”

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people prayed for Liam over the past two years. Twice a remission was hailed as an answer to prayer; news that he had relapsed a final time and would be brought home for his final weeks was greeted with shock and despair. In times like these, contemplating the death of a 7-year-old who used his newfound fame to help African children get clean water while monsters like Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer stayed leukemia-free, I find myself returning to a simple tenet: God simply cannot be omnipotent.

Or, as Tripp Fuller and John Sanders put it:

When God can do whatever God wants to do, whenever God wants to do it, everything that happens is either the direct will of God or permitted by God. … That means God has willed genocide, murder, rape, cancer, abuse, and the torture of children.  When God is omnipotent, one can read history as the will of God, and history is way too full of evil, suffering, and violence to imagine it as revelatory of God’s will.  If God ever willed the violent death of an innocent child, then that God is not Jesus’ Abba or worthy of a Christian’s worship.

If God were omnipotent, Liam would be alive today. A miracle would have happened.

That’s where I am this morning. Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe my faith is weak. I don’t know.

Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure my 3-year-old daughter has a stronger faith than I do. When she prays, her innocence and sincerity are inspiring – and more than a little humbling. I have too much baggage and too much ego to pray the way she does, and my goal is to one day talk to Jesus with such uninhibited joy and feeling.

Yesterday morning, my wife texted me the conversation she had with our daughter about Liam’s death.

What a sad day. 😦 We prayed for them together. [Our daughter] prayed a very short but slow prayer. I just told her that a family that goes to church with us is having the saddest day they’ve ever had. She prayed they would know God is always with them. 😦

Shortly after, I received another text from my wife.

[Our daughter] came back by where I’m sitting and said, “We need to pray for you, too.” So she sat in my lap, wrapped her arms around my neck, pushed her cheek up against mine, and prayed for me. How did she come to us, and why do we get to keep ours?

Why, indeed.


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