[This is part of a series of posts on completely unhelpful things to say to someone in grief. See the others here.] In Part 2 of this series of posts, I posted this picture of a Christmas ornament that I thought represented something really unhelpful to say to someone in grief:
This ad for a Christmas ornament was the first time I'd seen those words, but in the months since I've continually seen them in different places. I've seen friends turn to them in support after losing someone, and I've had pastor friends recommend them to those in grief. So I thought I'd revisit that post and explain, while treading lightly, why I think it's completely unhelpful.
Hopefully you haven't been looking through a book of options for verses to print on memorial cards at a funeral home anytime recently, but if you have been the words from the ornament have probably been in there as part of a short poem:
God saw you getting tired and a cure was not to be so he put his arms around you and whispered, "Come to Me"
With tearful eyes we watched you and saw you pass away and although we love you dearly we could not make you stay.
A Golden heart stopped beating hard working hands at rest. God broke our hearts to prove to us He only takes the best
I can understand the sentiment and experience behind it, and don't particularly have any problem with it... until the last two lines: I'm quite sure that God is not in a habit of breaking people's hearts in order to prove to us that he only takes the best. I don't attribute the tumor that took my Dad's life to God, and I certainly don't attribute it to God's desire to prove a point to us, and I absolutely don't attribute it to God's desire to prove a point that he only takes the best.
I would never want to love or trust a God who does things like that. My Dad died of cancer, as did each of his parents, because our bodies- like all of creation- are imperfect and eagerly awaiting the day when God will make all things new. Sickness is a terrible part of life on earth, but one of the reasons for Christ's coming as a human was so that he would defeat death. He destroyed it, and we have to pay attention to the historic Christian belief that the resurrection that brought Jesus from the grave in a renewed, death-defeating body will happen one day in Christ to my Dad and all of us.
That's a much more Biblical understanding than that God was sitting in heaven and decided I needed to learn a lesson, so he implanted a tumor in my Dad's esophagus. The poem says that God took my Dad, breaking our hearts, just to make a point to us? That's a God whose good side I'm going to try to stay on, but from whom I'm going to keep a safe distance. I'll certainly have trouble trusting him trusting him with anything or anyone else meaningful in my life. (Be careful kids, and please don't be one of the best!)
And how could there possibly be any way for it to be true that God "only takes the best"? Who takes the rest? And, sitting at the bedside of my loved one, how could I know the difference? Perhaps getting one of these ornaments as a gift somehow plays a role?
A passage of Scripture that has fascinated me for some time is when John says, "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Jesus' friend, who saw his miraculous, outstanding life, then saw the worst of things happen to him, others he loved, and surely endured some hard things himself, summarized the entire message of Jesus in this way. Not: "Jesus died for you and you can go to heaven when you die." Not: "Live a holy life so that God will be pleased with you and you can avoid his wrath." No, he said, "God is light and in him there is no darkness at all."
Another way of saying this is: There's nothing bad about God. God is completely and utterly good and trustworthy. God won't deliberately take someone from you (even if they are one of the best) so that you'll have a long-lasting memorable object lesson.
God was always good to my Dad, he continues to be so, and will always be so to every one of us, not least in the day when our bodies and our world will be made new again as the Scriptures say.