Reflections on the Loss of Our Daughter (Fred Zaspel)
(Note: We have been touched by the generous outpouring of love from God’s people, many of whom are Credo readers. We wish we could thank each of you individually, but please know of our heart-felt gratitude for your many recent expressions of love and encouragement. – FGZ)
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For a dozen or so years our daughter, Gina, suffered unspeakably from more maladies and on more levels — physical and otherwise — than I could begin adequately to explain. The infection that ravished her central nervous system, the years of sleeplessness, the constant nausea, the passing out and the many falls and concussions that came as a result, the severe and relentless headache pain, the haunting hallucinations, the struggles with confusion, the blood clots, the systemic infections, and so very much more, all in the extreme, made her life the most severely agonized I have ever witnessed. Amazingly — yet true to form — she found moments of laughter almost daily, and we delighted in her company even while hurting for her. But the suffering became increasingly severe on so many fronts. And as we watched her suffer, how we prayed, often in despair, that God would deliver her from it all.
About three years ago he did. In a dramatic and miraculous moment the disease was gone, and for a short while it seemed her life had been returned to her. But further setbacks were to follow. The suffering again became intense and unspeakable. Until finally, on Thursday, October 31, it was all over. Forever. Gina is now with the Lord.
At several points over the years it seemed she was dying, but then she would rally. And on occasions she and even we could have wished it for her sake — her suffering was so awful, death would have been considered a mercy. We still feel all that, but nothing could have prepared us for the pain we now feel over our loss. She was Daddy’s girl, Mommy’s soul mate, and brother’s very closest friend. We are a very close family, and we loved Gina more than words could ever express — and we told her so many, many times every day, verbally and with countless hugs and kisses. Surely a day will never pass, in this life, without sensing this deep, gaping hole in our hearts. We just cannot imagine life without Gina. How we loved her.
I have often suspected over the years that Christians who romanticize death have likely never experienced the loss of a close loved one. Death remains a dreaded and a devastating enemy, and there is just no way to make it pretty. It still stings, deeply so, and when it comes close like this it leaves us feeling all but completely undone.
Yet for Christians there truly is a difference. And during this past week since Gina passed, agonizing as it has been, we have learned first-hand that we really do not sorrow as those who have no hope. The weighty promises and massive truths that God has revealed to us in his Word truly are life-shaping and soul anchoring, and they provide a sure point of reference for even the most hurting heart.
United to Christ by faith Gina belonged — and belongs — to God. And through the years of her suffering we reminded ourselves often that the God who in grace had rescued her in Christ from sin loves her even more than we do. And so we trust his providence. He is too wise ever to make a mistake, and too good ever to do us wrong. And we acknowledge that just as he was free and sovereign in giving Gina to us 29 years ago, so now he is free and sovereign — and good and just — in taking her. He has not wronged us. Indeed, not only do we affirm this great truth — we rest in it. This God is himself our Father, a Father who knows what is best for his children and faithfully directs our lives accordingly. Moreover, he is the Father who in love one day gave up his own Son to bear our curse in order to redeem us to himself. Yes, of course there are many “Why?” questions that we cannot answer, but we lack no proof of God’s love or his goodness. And we bless him today with deeper passion than ever.
We are so very grateful not only that God gave us our daughter for 29 years, but also that in grace he saved her and made her his own. This is really everything — everything — and we recognize that we are blessed to know that Gina is rejoicing today in the presence of our great Redeemer. How she loved him! How she loved the gospel. Gina was marked by passion in everything she did, but nothing so stirred her like the gospel of Christ. She loved to hear it, she loved to learn it more deeply, she loved to sing it, and she loved to share it with others. Her whole hope was in Christ. Virtually every day, even in much pain, she would sit down at the piano to play and sing and refresh her aching soul with some of her favorite songs about Christ, God’s love in Christ, salvation in Christ, God’s faithful love and providence, and the glory that awaits us. And this same gospel is what assures us still. And we rejoice that neither death nor life nor anything else in all God’s creation could ever separate Gina or us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And we have come better to appreciate that our hope in Christ is not for this life only. We eagerly await the day of Christ’s return when we will rejoice together in his glorious presence and discover for ourselves that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will then be revealed in us.
Meanwhile, we are learning afresh the blessedness of the joy that is in Christ, a joy that bereavement somehow only serves to deepen. What a great hope, and what great joy is ours in him. We are also coming to appreciate more deeply the present work of Christ for us. In his sermon last Sunday our pastor wonderfully reminded us of our sympathetic high priest, the Lord from heaven who has come as one of us and who himself having learned suffering — successfully — now is able to provide for us every needed grace at every needed point in our journey. And we have also come to appreciate more deeply the real encouragement God gives through his people. Christian friends so often apologize for their stumbling words, unable to find words that seem suitable. Yet their many expressions of loving sympathy have all been blessed indeed.
We are hurting for our loss. The pain is massive, and on one level I’m sure it will never be absent in this life. But deep as this hurt is, we are not left adrift. With minds and hearts shaped by gospel truth, with the love of God marvelously shed abroad in our hearts by his Spirit, with confidence in his unerring providence, and with an unshakable joy and hope in Christ, God has given us more than all we will need.
Scripture assures us that one day God will “wipe all tears from our eyes.” I doubt that this language was intended to make us envision a gigantic handkerchief or some kind of cosmic hug. I suspect, rather, that this comfort will come by means of further revelation — that God will enable us to see things from his perspective, to see his wise purpose as he has worked it out in history unerringly for the good of his people to his own glory. There at last, with this fuller understanding, all mourning will be turned to joyful praise.
And so even in our loss, we do not doubt that for all eternity, one note of our song, looking back, will be “Our God has done all things well.”
Fred Zaspel (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam) is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel.