things jesus didn’t say #12 | best

21 02 2017

God only takes the best. It’s one those things that we say when someone we love dies. It’s our way of expressing that they were one of the best to us. It’s our way of trying to justify the sadness, devastation even, we feel. Why else would they have died? God must have wanted them, and he wanted them because they were the best.


It’s an understandable sentiment. But it is entirely untrue. On a number of levels.

Theologically, God doesn’t ‘take’ anybody, in the sense of reaching down from heaven to take us like tins of peas from a supermarket shelf. He doesn’t ‘take’ anybody in the sense of snatching them to himself, like a selfish toddler who won’t share the best Minion toy. And even if he did, he wouldn’t just take ‘the best’, like a supernatural Darwinian scientist creating perfection.

Firstly, everybody dies. Not just the good ones. Secondly, God came to stay in the person of Jesus, he did not come to take like a thief. Thirdly, he came for the worst, not the best.

The death of those we love can be the worst knockout blow we have. I know, because my mum died of cancer when I was 10. But she didn’t die because God wanted to ‘take the best’, though of course she was my best. If he had, what would that say about his character? To deprive a young family of their mother, their wife, because what – he liked her singing voice?

No, she died because she had cancer. It sucks, it devastates, but it’s life. But I believe in a world with firm foundations, in which death comes in a framework of love, of a God who does not rejoice in ‘taking’ but delights in ‘giving’, who is with us through the darkest nights. My theology of life is grounded in a theology of death, which means I do not need easy clichés, pop theology, and untrue truisms to help me stumble blindly through.

Jesus came to give us life in all its fullness; to defeat death in all its fearfulness; and to abide with us in our hopelessness. May we know God come to us in our sadness, even when our best are no longer with us.


remembering forwards

2 11 2014

Most of us have a dark chapter in our story. A time when we grieved for someone, or something. A time we find hard to look back on. We are not always very good at telling that part of our story.

But those parts of our story are important. We don’t tear those chapters out. Because we believe in a God who is involved in our story, and we continue to tell the story of God, even with the difficult bits. The Bible is full of honest grappling with the dark parts of our story – of family fall-outs, or childlessness, of death. The Psalms in particular do not shy away from yelling at God when we feel life has dealt an unfair hand. But in that, we remember that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us.

Holding that in tension is part of remembering forwards. Remembering forwards means looking back to the dark chapters with a confidence that comes from knowing the future. It’s a bit of time-travelling Jesus-style, less Doctor Who and more Doctor no-longer-required. It’s embracing that part of us that hurts, not burying it in the sand. Because though we are sad, we are not abandoned to sadness. Though we are thirsty, we are not left parched. ‘To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.‘ 

When death hits us, we may feel like we are stranded in a desert with no water, with all that is familiar gone. Many of us simply do not know what to do. So we live in denial, employing various tactics from the stiff upper lip, to humour, to making shrines, all of which can have their place, at the right time… but, when we are thirsty, none of these things are drinking from the water of life, they’re just re-arranging the sand.

But in remembering forwards,  we know we have a hope, we who believe and trust in Jesus Christ. A hope that marks us out. For we do not believe death is the end, because we believe Jesus is coming back, and when he does we will be raised with him. Yet this hope is not reserved for the end of time. We do not sit here in our grief, thirsty for hope, left to yearn for some distant future when everything will be ok. That future hope breaks into our present; that is what Jesus talked about when he talked of the Kingdom of God breaking in. He began his ministry talking about bringing freedom for captives, sight for the blind, release for the oppressed, comfort for the mourning.

Grief is hard, and can seem never-ending when you’re in the middle of its waterless desert. But. We can be people who trust in Jesus, in and through our confident remembering, and allow him to lead us confidently forwards to that place where we can drink freely from the spring of the water of life.

saying goodbye

4 05 2013

One of the most poignant things that I do is take the funerals of those who have lost children, especially those they have never held alive. This is a time to be with people in grief, where there are no easy answers, no memories to treasure, no life to recall. Just silence. 

It so happened the day I got the call this week, I came across this spoken word piece from the excellent Dai Woolridge, written for the charity Saying Goodbye, who provide support for those who grieve the loss of children. 

I thoroughly recommend it. 

If he seems familiar, I featured Dai’s spoken word Christmas Chord before, and we used it in our Carol Service. 

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